Spend any time outside this time of year and you are likely to encounter one of the insect world’s most impressive members: the praying mantis. These regal and graceful creatures are busy laying styrofoam-like egg masses (called ootheca) and feeding in fields, yards and gardens. Their meditative, tai-chi movements and camouflaged coloring disguise them amongst foliage but their size – up to four inches long – makes them noticeable.
If you have a chance to observe a praying mantis up close, they are truly fascinating. They seem extremely alert as they pivot their little triangular heads 180 degrees and they have an inquisitive way of watching any movement nearby. They are the only insects capable of moving their heads side to side like humans.1
Named for their forearms which, at rest, are bent in a position of prayer, their name comes from the Greek word for prophet or mystic. However, they are formidable hunters as their forearms are incredibly powerful for their size. They lash out with great speed and can crush prey with their spiked legs. In fact, their technique of catching prey inspired certain Kung Fu movements.
The praying mantis can be found worldwide except in areas with extremly cold winters. They eat other insects so there is a commercial trade for their egg masses as a biological control in home gardens, particularly by those practicing organic gardening methods. However, caution should be practiced if an egg mass is brought inside – the tiny mantis hatch out when the temperature signals spring which can mean hundreds of hungry babies emerge from a desk drawer, book shelf or jacket pocket. Also, it is a good idea to give your Christmas tree a quick check and remove any egg masses before bringing the tree inside.
For more information visit www.theprayingmantis.org