Roots 'n' Shoots: Praying Mantis: Biological Control - Garden Critter of the Month

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Praying Mantis: Biological Control - Garden Critter of the Month

 Mantids at a glance

Value to Gardener:
5/5 - Pest Controller!
Danger to Humans:
0/5 - None
5/5 – They’ll arrive or you can buy some

Praying mantis eating blowfly

Quick Intro

Mantids are usually large, robust insects with mobile heads and large eyes. Mantids are visual predators that ambush prey with serrated forelimbs. I will be discussing the quintessential giant or common green mantid.

Science Stuff

The giant or common green mantid (Sphodromantis gastrica) belongs to the Mantodea order, Mantidea family. These include other common and stick mantids, which are green to brown, but not the beautiful floral mimics (Hymenopodidae family).

Common Green Mantid, Giant Mantid
(Sphodromantis gastrica)

The giant mantid is found throughout South Africa and parts of Africa. They prefer dense foliage cover, such as bushes and trees, where they are camouflaged and await unsuspecting prey. They are common in domestic gardens and undisturbed vegetation. Provide shelter and hunting space in your garden by planting herbs that grow into substantial bushes, such as, Basil, Lavender, Mint and Rosemary. If you are able to purchase praying mantids, the giant ‘African’ (Sphodromantis gastrica) mantid is a huge favourite amongst collectors and insect enthusiasts and will be easy to find. (You can also buy some reallllly exotic ones also J).

Basic Praying Mantis Morphology


Praying mantids eat anything they can manage, but giant mantids prefer caterpillars (I think mine are at a loss when it comes to caterpillars, so they settle for aphids and beetles mostly J). I have observed mine eating all pest species (aphids, white fly…) and other not-so-problematic insects, such as stink bugs.

Munching a Stinkbug!
Giant Mantid, Common Green Mantid
Sphodromantis gastrica

Another Mantid Tip

When pruning herbs, shrubs or trees that are known mantid hideouts – keep an eye out for them and simply relocate them until the pruning ‘danger’ is over J. Or when pulling out carrots and beets, be sure to check the foliage, they are sometimes in there too!

Spent mantis egg case

Now for some interesting Evolutionary stuff on mantids (being a geneticist J)

Mantids can hear in the ultrasound spectrum (usually higher than 20 000Hz, which is the maximum point at which we can hear). This was first thought to have arisen to hear bats, but phylogenetic (genetic relatedness studies amongst mantid species, living and extinct) has shown that this ultrasound hearing capacity evolved before bats (bats evolved around 63 Mya and the ultrasound hearing evolved around 120 Mya).

Two ‘ears’ or proper insect term for ear, two sets of tympanums are located on the bottom of the thorax between the legs, one at the second and third pair of legs. Mantids respond to ultrasound only in flight, with the males being more responsive than females, as females are reluctant fliers and have reduced hearing.

Stick Mantid
Hoplocorpha species

Earlessness is considered to be the primitive or original state of the mantid and that hearing is a characteristic of more ‘newly’ evolved mantids species (newly being a relative term in evolutionary standards J). Some earless species do still exists and some mantids have lost their hearing ability, which is mostly linked to flightless females.

Now the reason to hearing matids. The cricket ear (located in the foreleg), evolved 200Mya and is primarily used for communication. Matids could have used their ears for intraspecific communication (mantids belonging to the same species would communicate differently) or prey location, but this was modified when bats evolved to avoid becoming dinner for echo-locating bats. Some birds also hunt in the ultrasound spectrum and wing movement produces ultrasound. So hearing could be an all round predator avoidance mechanism. But, this is all ‘educated/informative’ speculation and the true function of the mantid ear remains a puzzle.

This summary was compiled from the following research article:
D. D. Yager and G. J. Svenson, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 94: 541–568.

Fun Mantid Stuff

Whilst researching I came upon an origami mantid – so if you are bored fold a praying mantis and stick it in your garden. Who knows it might just scare the aphids away! JJJ

Origami Mantid

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  1. I thought of buying mantis as I have aphid problems. But, then your article says that they eat catterpillars :-(. Okay, no mantids. Butterflies are already decreasing in the US and every year I get catterpillars in my garden.

  2. If you want to purchase insects that eat aphids specifically try Lacewings, Hover flies and Lady bugs. You can check my 'Non Celebrity Insect' article in August 2011. Or I have developed wonderful sprays that you can apply to the aphids that will not harm any other 'higher' insects, check those on my Pest Control Page :)

  3. I am glad you commented on my blog, because it led me here! What a great resource, thank you!
    I am going to try your powdery mildew spray this summer....I get it every year on my squash and cucumbers.

  4. Thanx! Yes the powdery mildew can be a real pain, especially if the plant becomes a white mass! :)

    Interestingly I was dicussing the powedery mildew with a friend (Biotechnologist in Plant pathology) and we thought that it would be awesome if someone could breed those thick water-resistant leaves of broccoli and cauliflower into the cucurbits to prevent powdery mildew infection :)

  5. I love and respect these creatures in my garden. They are one of the best predators of Japanese beetles. Thanks for all the great info!


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