by Jason Johnson
It is truly with great excitement that I write about one of my favourite creatures in the animal kingdom.
I have always had a genuine fascination with the praying mantis ever since one came strolling into my room when I was a child. The way they stay perfectly still waiting for a meal to pass them by is simply admirable. They are so mysterious and aloof and you just know that all mantises secretly know martial arts.
I was going to leave them as the last beneficial insect of the Fantastic 5, but truth be told, I wouldn’t have been able to wait.
So without any further ado, my favourite beneficial bug and a bug that is welcome in my garden anytime, is the praying mantis.
The praying mantis is seen as a beneficial bug as it feeds mainly on other critters that are often considered pests. Insects such as flies, crickets, moths and even cockroaches all form part of a well balanced diet.
Other garden critters such as frogs, rodents and small hummingbirds are also not off limits. I suppose those are for special occasions like birthdays; comfort food, maybe?
For anniversaries, the male mantis would eventually become the meal. Female praying mantises literally bite their male counterparts’ heads off once they’ve mated. Wouldn’t it better to see other mantises instead? I feel like this is not a good way to end a relationship.
In some cases praying mantises will actually duel to the death with spiders such as tarantulas and the spoils go to the victor. Who ever survives the fight eats like a king that night.
The praying mantis is an intimidating predator, in every sense of the word. Aside from their obvious blade-like forelegs, this creature also uses a rather awesome technique called ultrasonic hearing. Bats use echolocation to locate prey. Mantises are able to pick up on the echo location emitted by the bat. If the mantis feels like the bat poses a real danger to them, they employ methods to avoid being preyed upon.
Mantises are masters of camouflage as well. Some actually look like the leaves that they perch on, with some closely resembling dead leaves. They rock back and forth slightly, blending in with the leaves that are being blown by a breeze. Clever!
Praying mantises don’t have many natural enemies and this has allowed their population to soar much to the delight of gardeners and farmers. Praying mantises in conjunction with ladybugs and lacewing flies are known to be a very effective method of natural pest control.
Like other beneficial bugs, mantises are very sensitive to pesticides. Gardeners regularly use blanket methods of pest control to wipe out bugs they consider pests. These pesticides often wipe out entire populations of praying mantises, including eggs and nymphs. Unlike other beneficial insects though, it may take years for colonies of praying mantis to regenerate.
Ironically, the pests that mantises feed on are able to regenerate within weeks of being sprayed.
As disappointing as it is to me, praying mantises do in fact have natural enemies who view them only as a quick meal.
Even though they have echo location in common, bats are one of the main predators of mantises. This annoys me because I feel like they should work together as a superhero duo. Imagine the headline “Unlikely duo of praying mantis and bat use super powers to destroy giant hornet’s nest!” Alas, they hate each other.
On the topic of giant hornets, these are just the vilest super villains you can ever imagine. Because of their thick exoskeleton all weaponry associated with mantises are rendered worthless against giant hornets. These giant bugs use their 1.4 inch stingers to impale the poor mantis and use their strong jaws to decapitate them and then eat them buffet-style.
As mentioned before, praying mantises have very few natural enemies as they are pretty much unstoppable. Most predators face a tough time making a meal out of a mantis. Even when caught in a spider’s web, they are not content to simply lie down and wait to be ingested like some sort of smoothie.
Given all the information above, one last question remains, why don’t I have my own pet praying mantis? I wonder if they do yoga…