Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What's New At The Farm, 10/08/2008

Janika sent me an email yesterday that she saw a Praying Mantis in her yard, so I thought that would make a good topic for today’s article. Each time I do an article on an insect, I learn a lot more about them. Such is the case here; the life of the Praying Mantis isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I’m sure everyone’s seen a praying Mantis sometime in their life. They are quite unmistakable in their appearance; sort of a miniature warrior in bright green. I’d hate to be an aphid and see one of these guys coming along. Finding them is somewhat like looking for tomato hornworms; once you know what you’re looking for they become easier to spot, although they are much rarer than hornworms.

I‘ve once seen them in my garden but I don’t recall ever seeing them here on the farm. They are commonly released by organic gardeners as predators but there are drawbacks with using them for that purpose. The biggest drawback is that they consume everything. Good insects, bad insects and everything in between. In certain applications they should perform well. We had a huge aphid problem this spring in the greenhouses and wanted to release some mantises, but we were too late to order them and they had been sold out. Next year it would be wise to order some early and keep the egg cases in the fridge until we needed them. Although I think the lady bugs did a great job on the aphids once a population got established. Something to look forward to next year!

Praying Mantises rely on their awesome camouflage to hide from their predators and trick their prey into thinking they’re a stick or stem and not something that wants to devour them. They look exactly like stems or sticks and it takes a sharp eye to spot them. Looking for movement in stems and sticks doesn’t appeal to me as very entertaining.

As for their life cycle, courtship and mating usually takes place in the fall. She often eats him while mating, starting with chewing his head off. The smart males will sometimes wait until she isn’t looking to jump off and run away, to perhaps find another female. She will lay between 10 and 400 eggs in a frothy mass which later hardens to become a protective case. Both parents will die in the winter, leaving the eggs to hatch in the spring. Once the weather warms the eggs hatch out into miniature mantises.

They grow like lobsters, shedding their skin as they grow. All stages look pretty much the same only larger until they become adults with wings. They shed their exoskeletons five to ten times depending on species. Two species were introduced into their US in the late 1800’s. The Chinese which were introduced in 1895 for pest control and the European which was into’d in 1899 in a load of nursery plants, the European which was introduced in 1895 as a predatory insect. The European is 2-3 inches long and the Chinese is up to four inches long which makes the two species identifiable.

Until next week, Brian.

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