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Beneficial(?) Bug: Mantids - Friend or Foe

Updated: May 10


Praying Mantid beneficial bug native

Mantids, commonly known as praying mantises, are fascinating insects that are adviertised to offer benefits to the ecosystem. There are many varieties of mantids, with only 20 that are naturally occurring in the United States. Unfortunately, there are no native (naturally occurring) praying mantids in Massachusetts. The most common mantids in New England are the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinensis) from Asia and the European Mantis (Mantis religiosa) from Afro-Eurasia - both with voracious appetites that don't discriminate garden pests from those that are beneficial


Perhaps the most common mantid that people encounter around Groton is the Chinese Mantid which is green or tan. Most mantids are recognizable by their slender, elongated body with a distinctive triangular head. They have large compound eyes that provide excellent vision, allowing them to detect prey and threats with precision. Their front legs are modified into powerful, spiky forelimbs that they use to grasp and capture prey. These forelegs are folded in a posture resembling prayer, which gives them their common name. Depending on the species and environment, praying mantises can vary in color from green to brown or even pink. This coloring often helps them blend into their surroundings and ambush prey effectively. Adult mantises usually have wings, although they vary in size and shape between species. In some species, the wings are fully developed and enable flight, while in others, they are reduced or absent.

 

They are commonly found in gardens, grasslands, forests, and other vegetated areas where prey is abundant. If you happen to spot a praying mantis in your garden, it might be worth spending some time observing their behavior. They are ambush predators, patiently waiting for unsuspecting insects to come within striking distance before pouncing on them with lightning-fast reflexes.

 

Mantises are solitary insects, except during mating season when males seek out females for reproduction. Females lay their eggs in protective cases called oothecae, which are often attached to branches, leaves, or other surfaces. These egg casings are easy to spot - keep an eye out for the tannish 1-inch sphere which will appear after the first frost. Depending on the species and environmental factors, praying mantises typically live for about one year, although this can vary.

 

 

Unfortunately, mantids are of questionable benefit to your garden as they are not native to Massachusetts and tend not to discriminate between native pollinators, including monarch butterflies, or garden pests. By attracting mantids to your garden, you might intend to naturally control pest populations without resorting to chemical pesticides; but, you may also throw off the ecological balance of your habitat by encouraging the predation of beneficial bugs, many of whom are at risk. While mantids are fascinating insects to observe, they may not be the "natural pest control" that you want in your garden.

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