Thursday, March 3, 2011

Delightful Discovery: Killers Inside

Mantis eating stink bug
Photo: Susan Levi-Goerlich

When I was gathering cut raspberry canes in late February, I noticed a praying mantis egg case attached about a foot from the tip of one of the canes. I looked around and found two more canes with egg cases. In short order I wove the canes into our backyard wire fence with the hope the eggs will hatch in the spring and that a lot of praying mantises will eat insect invaders—such as stink bugs—in my garden.

Mantid egg cases
The “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects & Spiders” tells how it happens: “In autumn females lay hundreds of eggs in large oval masses resembling papier-mâché—each mass is coated with a foamy, hardening bird-repellent and attached to twigs…. In spring soft, cream-colored creatures squirm out, quickly expanding into tiny mantids. They immediately begin eating smaller insects and sometimes each other as well.”

I fastened the canes in the fence near posts eight-feet apart, hoping the distance will reduce mantid cannibalism and that more mantids will survive to eat other insects in my garden.

I’m particularly eager to encourage mantids because one of our Howard County Master Gardeners, Susan Levi-Goerlich, last summer took a photo of an adult mantid chowing down on a stink bug.

Go, mantids! You prey on insects. I’ll pray that you have voracious appetites for stink bugs attacking my tomatoes, raspberries, and blackberries.

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