The praying mantis is a weird and wonderful insect. I read somewhere that it’s quite beneficial to have them in the garden since they eat bugs that might be injurious to plants, but there is a down side. They don’t discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs. They eat butterflies and ladybugs. But, as with everything else in nature, it’s all about survival so one can’t blame them too much.
And for someone who is interested in all things ‘nature’ they make an interesting subject for study. Apparently the larger species will not only eat other insects but birds, mice, frogs and fish. I’ve only seen the ones in our garden eating bugs, usually flies, butterflies and small bees or wasps. Even another mantis isn’t safe since they occasionally indulge in cannibalism especially when they first hatch out or at mating time. What a life!!
The mantis is amazingly good at camouflage and once situated will sit for hours waiting for its prey to come within grasping distance. They can move at an extraordinary speed and don’t waste any time when it comes to consuming their catch, eating the victim alive or biting off the head first and finishing the rest at leisure. I’ve noticed that with butterflies, they leave the wings, and I can usually tell when there’s a mantis somewhere in the garden when I find these on the ground.
Mating normally takes place in autumn which is when I start to hunt around for the frothy-looking egg cases, usually attached to the stems of shrubs or plants. I’ve found them on buddleia, chrysanthemums, autumn clematis and spirea so far. The female will lay anything from 10 to 400 eggs and will in some instances guard the case although very often these bug nurseries are left to their own devices and fall victim to other insects.
I brought one indoors last autumn and kept it in an old fish tank overwinter, in the hopes that I would be able to capture some images of the nymphs hatching out in the spring. Naturally one can’t stand watch 24/7 so of course they emerged last evening while I was watching “Inspector Lynley !” I think I only missed the big moment by a matter of minutes but, even then, the light wasn’t good so I had to position a flashlight and hold the camera close to the glass of the aquarium in order to get pictures.
The nymphs are only a fraction of the size of the adult mantis and there were dozens of them crawling all over the tank. I was doing some praying of my own, hoping they wouldn’t escape through the fine wire mesh on top of the aquarium but there didn’t appear to be any escapees so all was well.
Later I took the tank outside and left it, open and on its side, beside the autumn clematis, liberating the tiny occupants, allowing them to make their way into the big wide world. Hopefully some of them will survive long enough to provide more opportunities for photos this summer.