Named for the distinctive manner in which they hold their front legs up as if in prayer, the word "Mantis" comes from Greek, meaning prophet or fortune teller. It's an insightful name, considering that not only are Praying Mantis' "cool" but their presence is indicative of a healthy ecosystem.
North America is home to some 20 species of praying mantids. At least two, the European Mantid and the Chinse Mantid were introduced as biological pest control and as such aptly successful hunters, they've garnished some debate about their role as beneficial insects.
Mantises are nondiscerning in regards to diet (they'll eat anything smaller than themselves - including other mantises!).Their menu preferences consist mostly of insects, but the larger non-native varieties have also been known to consume frogs, salamanders, small fish, and even hummingbirds.
Mother Nature bestowed several features upon this beneficial bug, making it a fearsome hunter. The mantises triangular head is not only able to turn at 180-degree pivots but is also well adapted for excellent vision and hearing. With three single eyes and two huge compound eyes, the "murderous gaze" of the Praying Mantis is adept at spotting its next dinner. Each foreleg features serrated, spiny edges capped with tiny hooks, to help it grasp wriggling prey.
Mantises are known to wait, still as a statue, or to very slowly stalk their prey, sometimes swaying back and forth to mimic plants moving in a breeze. When it's time to strike, the Mantis becomes lightning fast. It is the only insect predator that feeds on moths and is fast enough to catch flies and mosquitoes that venture within its grasp.
While Praying Mantises aren't perfect, they're part of the ecological balance required for responsible, successful gardening. We're always pleasantly intrigued when we find them in our meadow or on our stream buffers.
Above, we are hosting a live hatching of one of the egg sacs found on one of our buffer sites. Once hatched, we will release them outside to spare our viewers from witnessing their territorial cannibalism. We will keep one in the tank with some wingless fruit flies and crickets.
Have fun watching our little garden warrior grow!