I vividly remember the day, as a child, when I first encountered a praying mantis. I was playing on my front porch and got near the edge of the concrete. There on the shrubs, sitting very still with its head cocked to one side, was the most alien-like insect I’d ever seen. I was in love!
I’ve never gotten over my fascination with this slender predator. Over the years, I’ve progressed from watching them hatch out of their egg cases in a homemade Ball-jar terrarium to searching for them among the plants in my very own garden.
We seem to be working to single-handedly repopulate our county with mantids. It’s officially spring now, and you can’t walk 10 feet on our farm without seeing several mantid egg cases. These cases will hatch an average of 200 babies each over the next couple months. We have such an overpopulation that we will be selling these cases at the farmers’ market. You may have seen this in your own town.
Have you ever bought an egg case for your garden? They do a lot of great work, but the truth is that they will eat any bug that happens by. In our apiaries, that means that our bees are also fair game—though this is only a problem if the egg cases are hanging in the bee yard or close by.
One of my first spring chores is to redistribute the egg cases. I walk the property and thin out some areas simply because of overpopulation. In some areas, I move the cases altogether because they’re near the bees. If I find a garden that doesn’t seem to have them, I fill in with one of my “extras.” If I’ve covered the property and still have more, they get sold to loving homes that would like to have a mantid population of their own.
Making a Home for Mantids
Mantids hunt by waiting in ambush, so like just about any kind of tall plant, especially those in the rose and apple family. However, it’s good to plant low-growing, carpet-like plants, as well, so you provide habitat for all manner of insects and there is much to feast on. Mantids will stay in your garden only if they have enough to eat, so providing habitat for other insects is important.
Forgetting to providing access to water for beneficial insects is an unfortunate common mistake. Tending your garden in a chemical-free manner is also critical. If you garden with chemicals you will have no mantids.
Finally, don’t be so tidy! In the fall, the female praying mantis will lay her eggs on an upright stem to keep the egg out of water and away from predators until hatching time in the spring. We often find these cases on old aster stems and things that are typically classified as “weeds.” If you clear everything out of your garden, you’ll not only make it harder for the mantids to overwinter, but many butterfly and moth larvae that could be potential food will also have difficulty. If you opt instead for diversity, you will be rewarded with a hardworking, insect-eating crew that’s not only a time and money saver but fascinating to watch while you enjoy your garden.