Praying mantis

Praying mantises, known for their propensity to eat other insects, are used by gardeners to help rid pest infestations.

While many landscapers and horticulturalists use insecticide to rid their gardens of nuisance insects, other folks prefer a natural pest control method. A formidable predator, the praying mantis can help gardeners exterminate harmful pests and curb unwanted infestations.

Local resident Pam Moore decided about 15 years ago that she wanted to throw out the chemicals and go organic with her garden. She said her interest in the insect started out as a joke, as the female mantis is known to bite off the head of the male before eating its corpse for nourishment.

"A friend of mine said he was always wary of women who were fascinated by praying mantises, which caused me to get fascinated by praying mantises," Moore said.

To transition a garden to organic pest control, certain insects may be used to sustain the overall health of a garden. Moore said mantises are veracious eaters and excellent huntresses, and when used properly, they can make a difference in a plot's well-being.

"They will eat aphids and thrips," she said. "They'll clean out anything and they are deadly. They're harmless to humans and birds and animals."

Those looking to practice organic gardening can buy mantis egg cases online or through garden centers. The female mantis lays its eggs during the fall, so by the time spring arrives, they are ready to hatch and be released into gardens. Moore said anywhere from 100 to 200 baby mantises come in a case.

When she receives her cases, Moore likes to place the eggs in a jar, cover it with a mesh screening, and place them on her windowsill so she can see when they hatch. Depending on the sunlight they receive and the temperature, a case of eggs can hatch in one to six weeks.

"When they hatch, if the weather is good, they immediately need to go in the garden, because they're little cannibals and they'll eat one another," said Moore. "In about an hour they'll start eating each other."

Before people place mantises in their garden, they might want to consider what other insects are present.

Their large appetites and quick reflexes make them dangerous to a variety of species. So those who would like to protect pollinators - such as bumblebees, hummingbirds, or butterflies - should consider placing their mantises in an area where those insects are not prevalent.

Moore said it is important not to place cases too close to one another, or too far from food sources, as the hatchlings could begin to eat one another.

"They're not even a half-inch long - absolute miniatures of the full-grown bug," she said. "They take off and they start climbing up. I put them down where they're protected and I put them in different parts of the yard. Right now, there's a thrip infestation where I put one batch of them. So I'm watching to see if everything is getting eaten right."

So for those who need a little help maintaining the insect population of their garden, the praying mantis could make for a useful co-worker.

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