Reason No. 729 to be glad you're a human and not 1 inch tall: praying mantises. "They're generalist predators; they eat anything they can catch and subdue," said David Shetlar, a professor of urban landscape entomology at Ohio State University.
Reason No. 729 to be glad you’re a human and not 1 inch tall: praying mantises.
“They’re generalist predators; they eat anything they can catch and subdue,” said David Shetlar, a professor of urban landscape entomology at Ohio State University.
Large species of mantises that live in warmer climates have been known to devour even hummingbirds, he said.
In Ohio, however, two mostly insect-eating species predominate: the native Carolina mantis and the introduced Chinese mantis.
Although they can be found in our gardens in one form or another year-round, late summer and early fall are the easiest times to see them.
That is because — after a summer of stalking, snaring and chomping — they’re big, as in 3 inches long for the Carolina mantis and 5 inches for the Chinese.
“They eat good bugs, bad bugs and each other,” said Shetlar, also known as “the BugDoc.”
And, yes, the females do consume the males after or even during mating.
“They have a whole bunch of strange ways of ensuring survival of the species,” he said.
“It’s notorious that the female eats the male’s head — and eats it while mating.
“His abdomen will continue to function even after his head is bitten off.”
(Readers: Please pause here to chortle, add commentary or silently marvel.)
Amazingly, nature, as usual, knows what it’s doing: A nutrient-rich snack, such as the male’s head, in the midst of mating can increase the number of eggs — with the victim’s genes, of course.
You can almost hear the little mantises-to-be cooing, “Thanks, Daddy!”
The frothy-looking egg case, typically deposited on a stem, branch or side of a tree, hardens and offers protection from predators and weather.
The babies, or nymphs, resemble perfect miniature adults and emerge the following spring after the danger of frost has passed — usually early to mid-May.
A nymph’s first meal? Probably a sibling.
“In the first two days after hatching, you’ll get 50 percent cannibalism,” Shetlar said.
In between the time a mantis eats a sibling and eats a mate, it’s on patrol.
“They usually hang out in flowers, waiting for insects,” he said. “They really like to eat bumblebees.
“Aphids are too small; so are scales and spider mites,” added Shetlar, referring to common pests that gardeners wish mantises would eat.
So, although they can help keep insect populations in balance, mantises aren’t going to purge your garden of unwanted bugs.
For that reason and others, Shetlar advises against buying egg clusters. For instance, just because they hatch in your garden doesn’t mean they’ll stay there.
In the next month or so, you might come face to face with a praying mantis while weeding your flower beds.
It will swivel its head and size you up with its steely green eyes, deciding, “Eh, forget it; too much trouble.”
“In the praying mantis world,” Shetlar said, “the bigger one eats the littler one. That’s the rule.”
Diana Lockwood is a freelance writer covering gardening topics.