Garden Variety: Praying mantises make fierce garden guardians

mama mantisBY CINDY HIRAI
Being808 Contributor

Praying mantises make great pets. Just trust me on this one; they’re better than your shih tzu or your tabby.

I have some praying mantises at home, and I recently introduced a whole brood to protect an employee garden at HMSA Center in Honolulu.

Employees got the green light to plant the garden in spring 2014, and the project has brought together people across the company. On any given day, you can see an IT programmer working shoulder to shoulder in the dirt with a billing clerk and a business analyst.

And of course, alongside praying mantises.

We’ve had three praying mantis hatchings so far. In December, 10 baby mantises were born; in January, we welcomed another 44 into the world.

So why should you keep praying mantises in your garden?

• They’re better at controlling pests than that insecticide you keep spraying on your plants.

Praying mantises eat smaller insects, and they’re also eaten by larger predators so they don’t overpopulate an area.

mantis editedPlus, if you watch over praying mantis hatchings, you can share some of the little critters with friends for their gardens.

• The females eat the males for dinner, which puts a whole new spin on “I am woman, hear me roar.”

Praying mantises become adults when they grow their wings. Once the women are fully grown, they’re ready to mate. And after that’s done, it’s off with his head. Actually, they devour the whole guy: It’s a delicious meal for the new mother-to-be.

Females lay eight or more eggs throughout their lifetime; and they live six months to a year.

Pro tip: It’s pretty easy to tell females from males. They’re larger, and they have six abdominal segments. The males have eight.

• Finally, praying mantises take sibling rivalry to a whole new level.

Babies will take about three to four months to reach adulthood and be about three to four inches long.

Each egg produces 50-200 nymphs since survival is quite a challenge. They’re the wind, the rain, the predators, and their siblings. Yes, praying mantises are carnivorous — and cannibals.

So there you have it. Praying mantises eat their neighbors, their mates, and their brothers and sisters. I think we can all agree that they’re pretty much the coolest insect around. Why not introduce a few to your garden?

cindyhirai

 

Cindy Hirai is an application developer with HMSA. At home, she lives for finding “free stuff” and enjoys recycling, raising praying mantises and growing edible plants. Her garden currently includes collard greens, bell peppers, nasturtiums, tomatoes, and pole beans, all well protected by her troop of green warriors.

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