In the Garden:
Inland Northwest, High Desert
Gus, my favorite praying mantis is ready to snack on any bugs lurking in my garden.
Big Green Eating Machines
It's been quiet, bugwise, in my garden this year. Seems like praying mantis were everywhere. Funny thing is, they're not supposed to be here. All the bug books say mantids live mostly east of our region. They landed in the eastern United States in the late 1800s as stowaways, but they've made it to the West.
Mantids Like to Eat
One day I glanced at what I thought was a piece of straw being carried along by a large ant. On my second trip by that spot in the garden, though, I noticed that the piece of straw was really moving along, so I stopped to watch for a minute. That's when I discovered that the straw was the shell of a good-sized grasshopper and the ant underneath was a praying mantis scooping out the last of the grasshopper - with gusto!
Good Hunters, Lousy Social Skills
The Popeye-like forearms of praying mantids strike out with lightning speed to catch flies, wasps, anything that passes by. You'll almost never see two mantids in the same neighborhood because they're not nice to each other. If the just-hatched nymphs don't blow away quickly enough, the first-borns will eat them. And, of course, the female is known to devour her mate before they have finished mating.
Antisocial as they are, praying mantids can be the best things to visit the garden all year. They will eat lots of the bugs that attack vegetables and flowers all summer. Unfortunately, they don't discriminate between the good guys and the bad guys, but, all in all, they'll help keep the balance in the garden. I wish mine bon appetit.
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