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June 28, 2009

Praying for Garden Pests

We've experimented with adding several different kinds of beneficial insects to our garden community over the years. We introduced ladybugs one spring and had fun watching them multiply by the hundreds over the summer (click here to see our photos of the ladybug lifecycle in action). Mason bees are another insect that we have encouraged to take up residence in our garden. With honeybee populations dwindling in some areas, we may eventually come to depend on mason bees and other lesser known pollinators to keep our plants productive.

Some good friends of ours, fellow homelearners, ordered Praying Mantis egg sacs (or "ooths") from a science supply company this spring and ended up with an extra one, which they kindly offered to us. The literature said that each of these dried-fig-shaped egg cases could produce between 100 and 400 baby mantids, which quickly begin cannibalizing each if they're not separated, which they keep doing until there's only one left standing. Since we weren't particularly interested in hosting insect gladiator battles, and we haven't got nearly that many bug cages, we had to come up with a plan B. It occured to me that I remembered reading that mantises are good to have in the garden, as they are voracious eaters who will make quick work of all kinds of garden pests, including aphids, mosquitoes and caterpillars when they are young, and beetles, flies, wasps, crickets, and grasshoppers when they are fully grown. The decision was made to give them their freedom rather than keeping them as pets. I'm hoping that they also have a taste for termites and carpenter ants, which are two things that we have in abundance around here.

We hung our egg case up in our insect cage (which has housed stick insects and served as a brooder for several generations of butterflies over the years) a month or so ago and pretty much left it to its own devices. I had almost forgotten about it until one morning last week when I noticed that we suddenly had a cage full of mantid nymphs:


Close-up of the ooth.

We kept them in the cage for a little while so that we could observe them and their behaviour, but when it became clear that there weren't going to be any more hatching, we decided to release them into the garden rather than watch them make a buffet brunch of their brothers and sisters.


We let them go several dozen at a time in various spots around the yard, and they seemed happy to be free.

They're cute little things when they're only a day old, but I'm not looking forward to coming face to face with this guy anytime soon.

5 comments:

Meagan said...

I hatched 2 sets of mantis a few years back. Even kept one as a pet while the others roamed the yard.
They seem to come from nowhere all of a sudden you have hundreds!

Steffi said...

Oh your pictures looks like a lot of work...

Annie said...

How cool! We've just moved and are planning a garden for the new house for next year...

Cheryl said...

Meagan - We were going to keep one as a pet, but weren't quite prepared when they arrived. Have you ever come across one in your yard?

Steffi - It's fun work! :)

Annie - Ooh, lucky you! Have fun with it!

Roasted Garlicious said...

Last year our local Buckerfields (feedstore) carried mantis cases, so i bought one.. but it was early in the season, so put the boxed up case in the kitchen.. and forgot about them!! one afternoon they hatched.. EVERYWHERE!!! there were at least a 100 of the little ones wandering around my kitchen! we rescued as many as we could find and put them in the garden to hopefully survive a summer...

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