Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mantis

The Mantis (praying mantis) is an effective predator and usually a welcome insect in organic gardening. There are many species of mantis in temperate and tropical climates worldwide.

The mantis is able to see up to 20 meters and has precise stereoscopic vision up close. They possess the unique ability to turn their heads 180ยบ, and use this ability to determine the relative distance of their prey. They wait motionless, relying on camouflage to conceal their presence while other insects wander close enough to reach. They strike within 30 to 50 thousandths of a second with incredible accuracy, and can even snatch flies and mosquitoes from the air. They hold their prey in their barbed forelimbs while they eat them alive. Mantids sometimes prey on animals much larger than themselves.

Mantids usually fly at night, when they are least vulnerable to natural predators like birds. They can hear and avoid the echolocation sounds made by bats. They are non-venomous and have no chemical defenses to discourage other animals from eating them.

Whether the mantis is useful in gardens depends on the intention of the gardener. Mantids prey on any insect they can catch including beneficial insects and other mantids. The common belief that a female mantis will devour her mate is a habit most often observed in captivity when the female is hungry. In the wild, males are very cautious around hungry females.

The mantis is most closely related to roaches and termites. They lay eggs in clusters of 10 to 400 eggs that are available for purchase at garden supply stores. Mantis nymphs, emerging from eggs look similar to adult mantids and often mimic ants. If prey is not immediately available, the nymphs will cannibalize each other. The typical life span of a mantis is 10 to 12 months.

Mantis on a papaya. Photo credit Nate Porter.

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