The praying mantis is probably the largest insect you’ll see in your garden — and this predatory species is always on the prowl, eating pretty much any other insect that moves.
Illustration By Keith Ward
This article is part of our Organic Pest Control Series, which includes articles on attracting beneficial insects, controlling specific garden pests, and using organic pesticides.
Praying Mantis (Mantodea)
One of the largest and most visible insects in the late summer garden, adult praying mantids (the accepted plural of mantis) can grow to 5 inches long. Both native and imported species may be present in the garden, or you may encounter them in shrubs. The praying mantis has excellent eyesight and is a good flier, so this beneficial easily locates plants being fed upon by smaller insects. As the season progresses and mantids grow larger, they pursue larger prey.
In the fall, a female praying mantis produces eggs inside a foam-like hard case attached to branches. In spring, dozens or hundreds of little mantids hatch and disperse into nearby bushes. Later in summer, after they have grown to 2 inches long, you will start noticing them in the vegetable garden.
What Does a Praying Mantis Eat?
The praying mantis diet consists exclusively of other insects until late in the season, when mature mantids have been known to capture rodents, frogs and hummingbirds. Grasshoppers are more typical fare, but a praying mantis will eat anything it can catch. This includes beneficial insects, so too many mantids may not be good in a balanced organic garden.
Praying Mantis Habitat
Bushes are the preferred habitat for newly hatched praying mantids, so landscapes that include plenty of shrubbery usually have an abundance of this predatory insect. Praying mantis egg cases can be purchased and set out in the garden in spring, but do not import more praying mantids if you already see them often in your yard.
More information on the praying mantis is available from University of Arizona, Ohio State University, and Oregon State University.