Alien-looking, long, slender bugs with ever-watching eyes, the Praying Mantis is a truly unique and absolutely voracious beneficial insect with a fearless attitude!
The word Mantis in Greek means “prophet” or “seer” and they’ve been kept as pets and raised by enthusiasts around the world. Revered as messengers passing along some spiritual secrets, Mantis have long been associated with the belief it's time to pause, relax and reflect on our surroundings.
Chinese philosophy compares them to courageous and fearless warriors with a unique fighting style - both fast, camouflaged, and fluid. In western philosophy, the way Mantis hold their front legs up as if in prayer has led to their namesake and given rise to religious symbolism as divine messengers and wake-up calls.
Around the world, Mantis symbolize stillness, contemplation, calm, patience, mindfulness and awareness, but also creativity, balance and intuition. Reminding you that all good things come to those who wait. They’re great to have around your Meditation and Zen gardens!
Mantises are a large family of insects with an insanely wide range of sizes, and colors. They live worldwide in a variety of temperate to tropical climates! Out of the 2,400 species, they are part of a handful of bugs with raptorial forelegs that grasp and hold prey. They are one of fewer that can swivel their heads 180 degrees!
Those bulbous compound eyes and triangular heads always keep an eye on you and their next meal! They can also keep an eye out for bats which are their largest predator.
Fantastic pest control and very beneficial (though they do eat everything and anything), larger species in other areas of the world have been seen eating frogs, lizards, birds and snakes! Those with Hummingbird feeders even need to keep an eye out for an overly confident Mantis! I’ve personally seen one pluck a paper wasp straight out of the air and devour it in seconds, discarding the fiddly legs and wings like a picky eater! She then cleaned her legs like a satisfied cat, all the while looking at me like I was next.
Known for ambush hunting styles, the female's weird cannibalism dating style, and a unique method of moving without being noticed, which involves rocking and swaying, to look like nothing more than any other swaying leaf or stem in the breeze.
They have the unique ability to camouflage themselves with their surroundings - taking on the exact color, texture, and shape of flowers, leaves, sticks, moss, bark, lichens, and anything else they find themselves living around. They simply molt and seem to blend in seamlessly, mimicking their surroundings! Holding absolutely still for hours to ambush their prey!
They’re like little garden ninjas!
While here in the US, we have the Chinese, European, and native species of Carolina and Agile Mantis. Other species typically found throughout North America, but aren’t necessarily native are -
There is also a slew of niche Mantids around the world! Check out these varieties next time you are browsing around the internet -
The Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) is the native species here in the states. Growing to about 2-3 inches and are long and slender. Typically tan or brown, sometimes green, and even mottled gray (I’ve seen bright yellow ones!). One species native to the southwest United States and Southern Canada is the Agile Ground Mantis.
There are non-native European Mantis (Mantis religiosa) that have been naturalized here in the states as well and can grow about 3 inches long. They look very similar to the Carolina Mantis and have similar traits and diets. They often have a dot under their bodies between their legs.
Another larger species, up to 5 inches long, is the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinensis) which are almost similar in color and form.
Females are always larger than males and both can molt to have wings when they’re older. Females create a foamy mass, secreted from their abdomens, to lay hundreds of eggs into this foam. It then hardens into a protective cocoon called ootheca.
This ootheca can be long and slender with evenly spaced ridges and lay flat along a surface, or they can be round and thicker and attached to plant stems. You’ll find these hanging from branches, leaves, or adhered to fencing and your home's siding. The nymphs hatch out of this nest in the spring. Be careful while doing garden cleanup not to accidentally dispose of next year's garden Kung Fu warriors.
The best method of attracting and keeping Mantis in your garden is simple! Grow organically and plant native species!
Pesticides can wreak havoc on Mantis bodies as much as these chemicals can on the insects you are trying to kill. Choose spot treatments and organic means of control instead of carpet bombing the entire area and indiscriminately killing everything. Not only will you kill your Mantis, but also your bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects, plus all the food for your Mantis in one fell swoop.
Beyond that, Praying Mantis just seem to pop up in any garden location with ample shade and cover, regular moisture, and places to hide. They do prefer to be around flowering plants and vegetable gardens. They also seem to enjoy plants in the Rose and Raspberry family, because these plants attract many insects for them to eat!
Want a fun activity with the kids (or for your own enjoyment)? Next time you are in the garden in early spring and happen upon a Mantis cocoon - drop it in a jar with very small holes in the lid, or a fine mesh screen, and keep it in a protected area you can watch daily. By mid-spring, the nymphs will hatch and you’ll be able to release hundreds of baby Mantis into your garden! (Just be sure to watch it carefully and check back twice a day.)
In a hurry to have Mantis in your garden? You can even buy Mantis egg cases and tuck them into your garden for free pest control! Or keep them as pets! They rarely bite even when handled but have been known to give you a good nip when you get too rough.
Like, little martial artists, Mantis are as fast as lightning, as agile as a cat, can hide in plain sight, and attack from the shadows!
So next time you see one of these curious insects looking at you like you’re the blue plate special, stop and take a moment to relax, and hear their message of peace and tranquility in the garden! Then let them be as they saunter through your garden eating what’s bugging you most!
Appreciate Praying Mantis and other beneficial insects and welcome them into your garden with the help of NatureHills.com!