A praying mantis should be a welcome sight in the garden, despite the insect’s intimidating features. These hugely beneficial insects eat a wide variety of pest insects, mites and bug eggs. Mantid egg cases are, in fact, commonly hatched and released by gardeners looking for general garden pest control without chemicals.
The praying mantis is a hero in any integrated pest management program. Understanding the insect’s benefits, as well as how you can use them in your garden, will serve you well when pest pressure starts to increase.
Young mantids prey upon smaller soft-bodied insects (aphids, spiders, leafhoppers, mosquitos, flies, etc.), while adults graduate to larger, harder bodied pests (i.e. grasshoppers, caterpillars, crickets, mice, hummingbirds and small tree frogs).
Mantids’ brown and green colors provide stealthy camouflage while they stalk their prey. Their hands are held ready to capture smaller insects in the commonly recognized “praying position.”
Praying Mantises into Your Garden
It’s worth working to build a praying mantis-friendly environment in the garden, as these mighty hunters do a wonderful job of regulating the bug population.
Gardeners can work to attract praying mantis by enticing them with plants in the rose or raspberry family. In addition, tall grasses and shrubbery offer shelter and security for their habitation.
You can also purchase or hunt for praying mantis egg cases, known as ootheca, and hatch them to release in your garden.
Ordering Praying Mantis Egg Cases
Oothecas are brown egg cases
containing between 50 and 200 individual eggs. Companies will ship these to users who can set them up properly. These providers gather the egg cases from the wild and are unsure of when the egg cases were first developed. So they can’t always give an accurate hatching window, which can be anywhere from 10 days to six weeks after receipt.
Hatching requires temperatures 60 degrees or warmer. Once hatching commences, the entire egg case is hatched within a few hours. Mantids can become cannibalistic if not released soon enough, so it is best to put them in the garden when several have emerged.
Releasing the eggs is as simple as opening the lid on the provided container. Be sure to space your egg cases properly if you are releasing several at a time. For every 5,000 square feet, three cases are recommended, and you should really try not to order too many to prevent cannibalism.
Oothecs cost between $5 and $45, depending on the species. The pictured mantids are of the Carolina species. Carolina mantises are found more in the Southern states, whereas the Chinese mantis (which is more likely to attack beneficial pests) is mostly found on the East coast. Several species options are out there, so be sure to shop savvy.
Moderation is key to life. If you try to build a population of too many praying mantises, they might just eliminate other beneficial insects such as lacewing wasps, hover flies, ladybugs and butterflies. However, diversity is key in the organic realm, and adding a healthy balance of these beneficial insects should work well to keep very destructive garden pests at bay.