By Shan Wheeler, Master Gardener Trainee
Insects are my “thing”… I love bees and butterflies (but who doesn’t?) and plant my garden to attract them. Most people try to prevent and spray insecticides to ward off insects, but there’s no need to be paranoid because some are good guys! You’ve heard about beneficial insects like Lady Bugs, but the stealthy, alien-out-of-this-world-looking Praying Mantis is one of my favorites. I once noticed what I thought was a new type of miniature mantis: light-green, perky with an arrogant, strutting attitude – cute-as-a-bug! (sorry…). After research, I found that that little guy was the nymph stage of the Praying Mantis.
The adult lays her eggs just before winter in a protective casing which endures the winter weather. Mid-spring, when temperatures are warm, the eggs hatch. Praying Mantis are carnivores and the nymphs will eat small insects (even each other) while going through several stages of growth known as instars. Young mantes eat a variety of garden pests: mites, insect eggs, aphids, leafhoppers, mosquitoes and caterpillars. An adult will eat spiders, crickets, grasshoppers and even (oh no) butterflies! The eggs are laid close to where they prey – look around your garden on metal or wood arbors or even on your home – the sac looks like a dried up prehistoric trilobite.
This past summer I was very attached to a large mantis which lived in my asparagus fern. I would talk to it (really); it would turn its triangular head following my hands as I worked. I’m sure it’s her eggs that are attached to my shovel handle and also on the brick wall directly above where she hung out. I cannot wait until her eggs hatch and begin scattering those cute nymphs all around my garden
Visit the Permian Basin Master Gardeners website at www.westtexasgardening.org for more gardening information.