by Stephanie Kearney
I was recently approached by a neighbor about praying mantids (the plural of ‘mantis’). She wanted to know if there was some reason why she was seeing them in her Philadelphia garden now when she never remembered seeing them in the past.
We are now officially in autumn, and it is actually quite common to see mature mantids this time of year. Though eggs hatch in spring, we don’t usually see the tiny babies until they’re about 2 inches in length or longer, which doesn’t happen until late summer. These larger mantids are easier to spot, and can often be seen hunting for prey – which for them is an extensive list. Praying mantids are generalists, which means they will eat practically any insect in your garden. This might sound like a good thing, but they eat beneficial insects too, and an overabundance could disrupt your ecosystem. It’s also important to note that there are a few different species of mantids in our area, and only the Carolina mantis is native. They are distinct from the rest as they are brown and smaller than their larger green cousins.
As the weather turns colder, a female praying mantis will choose a branch on which to lay her eggs. The foam-like, hard case, called an ootheca, may contain 50-200 eggs set to hatch in the spring. I’ll be on the lookout for oothecae (another fun plural) on my shrubs as this season progresses, and I’ll be paying close attention to population changes next year.