Introduced accidentally into the eastern part of the United States in the late 19th century, Tenodera sinensis—Chinese praying mantis—is as cherished as it is demonized. I admit to having emotions toward this amazing predator that span that spectrum. Most of the mantids in my garden are of the Chinese variety.
I have yet to kill one (that I know about) and even take care to relocate their egg cases when pruning my vast garden. I also gently relocate the variously sized adults when I run across them. I adore my pollinators so it’s difficult for me to imagine them being nabbed and eaten alive by one of these pesky predators. Thankfully, I have yet to find one of the many mantids I’ve run across munching on anything.
Some people purposely introduce the Chinese mantis into specified areas because they are such aggressive predators. Unfortunately, as with many infusions of non-native species, this can cause further imbalance and may lead to a long path of reestablishing harmony. I didn’t bring the mantids into my garden, I simply allow them to stay.
While I’d love to have more native mantids in my garden—like the Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) pictured below, bottom right corner—it would take a major killing spree of the Chinese variety on my part to make room for those natives. I’m simply not up to that particular task at this time. I haven’t yet taken the time to study closely enough to note if I have any European mantis (Mantis religiosa) or any of the other 2,000 varieties in my garden.
These predators definitely fascinate me with their prehistoric looks and their obvious and engaging gaze. I have watched them as much as they have watched me while I work in the garden. I usually leave them to their duties unless I’m destroying their habitat with my harvesting or weeding.
Most of them are quite willing to be relocated though I have had an occasional mantis try to take me on by grabbing my fingers with its spiky (lethal for smaller prey) praying arms. One even tried to take a bite out of my finger during the short ride to another location. Gotta pause to pay homage to the double entendre there—their praying arms are one of their best tools and are literally preying arms.
I talk to them whenever I find one. Usually I’m simply reassuring them that they are seen and that they’re safe where they are. Those I move to another spot are treated to my soothing reassurances as we walk. Whether they hear me or not is irrelevant, it’s in my nature to verbalize my intentions to the Universe.
Supposedly mantises don’t alter their color with a change of environmental background, rather they shift color during a molt to better blend into their surroundings. I’ve noticed that when immersed in living greenery, they tend to be green perhaps with contrasting wings like those I find in my bean vines.
Those who are brown are usually hunting in the soil, dead leaves, or dried grasses—though I did spot one on a solar light (pictured bottom left below). There has been some speculation that the heat of summer may affect the color changes. This makes some sense to me since the dog days of summer are often hot and dry which turns many plants toward yellow and brown hues.
If I spot one that isn’t matching I figure it’s on its way to richer hunting grounds. Mantids are definitely easier to spot when they contrast with the background—not something that bodes well for camouflage during their predatory practices.
When they are nearly seamlessly blending with their background they can surprise the calmest of us. For awhile this summer there were two living in my pole beans. I jumped the first time I spotted them and apologized to them in case of disturbance. After that, I kept a watchful eye and spoke with them as I picked my beans. I marveled at the way each one basically stayed in the same general spot for days at a time.
I heartily recommend treating these creatures with respect, satisfying your curiosity with vigilant observation as they work your garden for its treasures. If you have more time to do so than I’ve taken so far, perhaps you can document how many different varieties your habitat holds. If you want to add fun to your study, consider adding a mantis puppet.
Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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