The angelic-looking praying mantis, its arms folded as if in prayer, is actually one of the insect world’s greatest hunters, able to nab even a flitting moth in the blink of an eye. Preferring subtropical and tropical climes, several mantis species have been introduced in the United States as a form of natural pest control.
Part of a larger insect group known as praying mantis, the various praying mantis species grow up to six inches in length. Their specialized front legs, folded as if in prayer, are actually designed for hunting, shooting out at lightning speed to capture passing prey, then gripping it tightly with the sharp spines lining its legs. Although they look a little like large grasshoppers, these insects are actually more closely related to cockroaches. Green to brown in color, they blend well with grasses and shrubs.
This intriguing bug is found in a wide variety of habitats, although it generally prefers warmer tropical and subtropical regions, living in gardens grasslands, gardens, meadows, deserts and rainforests. Although there are about 1,800 species of mantis in existence, only are 11 are in North America and most of these are not native to the region, having been introduced for pest control. The female deposits eggs in the spring or fall, sealing them in a protective Styrofoam-like egg case for winter protection.
A voracious eater, the carnivorous praying mantis helps gardeners by eating a wide variety of pests including mosquitoes, roaches, caterpillars, flies, aphids, moths, lizards and even small rodents. This slow-moving insect is an ambusher, hunting by sitting on a plant or twig waiting for prey. Due to a flexible joint between the head and prothorax, the praying mantis is able to rotate its head a full 180 degrees, adding to its considerable hunting skills. This bug eating machine is the only predator known to feed on moths at night and the only one fast enough to catch flies and mosquitoes in flight, often staying close to street and porch lights after dark to catch these speedy insects.
The praying mantis has some definite cannibalistic tendencies. Not only will this insect eat its own kind when no other prey is available, the mantis young will chow down on one another if they don’t immediately find other food. Part of the insect’s mating ritual includes the unusual practice of the female killing the male by severing his head, devouring him after the sex act is completed.
Nature’s Pest Control
Many farmers and gardeners use the praying mantis as a form of natural pest control. However, if these voracious bug hunters aren’t solving your garden pest problem, contact Clegg’s online or via phone at 888-672-5344.
Image via: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantis