Mantodea (or mantises, mantes) is an order of insects that contains over 2,400 valid species and about 430 genera in 15 families worldwide in temperate and tropical habitats. Most of the species are in the family Mantidae. The English common name for any species in the order is “praying mantis”, because of the typical “prayer-like” posture with folded fore-limbs, although the eggcorn “preying mantis” is sometimes used in reference to their predatory habits. (Wikipedia)
The praying mantis is one of the most fascinating of insects. The first time one may see this creature, a first reaction may be a disgusted ‘ugh’. Until you learn of the good these ugly characters can accomplish, they do look somewhat disgusting. However, they are one of the Lord’s finest creations when it concerns predatory ability. Vegetable gardeners know of the value of these creatures and some go to much lengths to get them into their vegetable patches.
The smaller they are, the smaller their prey normally is found to be. Small ones may eat plant lice or ants. But as they grow into adulthood, so does their appetite grow. A few praying mantis can keep your beans and peas virtually free of beetles. They aren’t very choosy when it comes to what they will attack and eat, even large grasshoppers, bees, wasps and most other creatures which damage your vegetables. In fact they sometime cannibalize one of their own.
It is not unusual for a female to devour her male suitor after a mating session. The female lays a number of eggs enclosed in a web case which is attached to the limb of a plant. Some of these egg cases are known to contain as many as 500 newborns. There are companies which sell these cases for those who strive to have them in their area. This writer once purchased an egg case and attached it to a shrub next to our house. One never knows when these new arrivals are going to appear, but diligence rewarded me. One morning I discovered dozens of those tiny insects covering half of the plant I had used. A close examination shows that they look like miniature adults.
The unfortunate part of this process, those little creatures disappear and you never know if any stay within your immediate area or not. After that day of their birth, I did not see one for the rest of the year. That does not mean that they all died or left however. Their very natural shape and color, make them very difficult to see. Most are green or brown and it requires a very sharp eye to notice one on a plant. If you are one who has an interest in these, you may watch a very exciting video of some of their amazingly quick grabs of prey. Watch video.
These are amazing stick-shaped creatures whose head can turn completely backward. They are specifically designed for their predatory expertise.
There is only one thing which causes this writer to lose a bit of admiration for them and that is, they have been known to capture, kill and eat, a small humming bird. Fortunately, this seems to be an extreme rarity.