Monday, June 16, 2008

Insect Control? Look To Natural Predator

Have a need for insect control? Why not try a natural predator, himself a blood-thirsty insect. In different sections of the country he is known as prophet, mule-killer, soothsayer and devil's rear horse.

Measuring from two to five inches in length, this grayish-green fellow has two sets of slim grasshopper-like back legs and prizefighter-looking front legs. These strong, muscular-filled arms have wicked hooks underneath to hold its victim while it actually eats it alive.

The praying mantis is also a cannibal. He has no love for his own kind. If he's hungry, he'll eat his brother.

His color and shape resemble the plants on which he spend the day to escape notice.

Like a pair of binoculars, his black eyes protrude from a heart-shaped face. His body is slender, the wings short and broad.

The praying mantis is a pretender. As soon as dark begins to fall, he crawls from his hideout onto foliage or bark, a perfect camouflage for his twig-colored and twig-looking body. Kneeling in a pious position, he lifts his huge front paws as if in prayer, but really he's getting in position to attack unsuspecting prey. He remains in this pious position until an unfortunate insect ventures near. Then he snatches him, pinning down the victim with his vicious claws and eats it alive.

A birder once snapped a mantis at dusk devouring a ruby-throated hummingbird at a nectar feeder.

The female, larger than the male, has even stronger cannibalistic traits. She takes advantage of this and after mating will turn on her husband, kill him, or make a meal out of him while he is still alive. Her weakling mate, resigned to his fate, lifts not a hooked claw to save his life.

In the fall the mantis cycle begins anew when the female lays an oval mass of eggs on the stem of a plant and covers it with mucus that hardens in an eye-catching, creamy-tan case, assuring the next summer's supply of praying mantises.

This beguiling insect with ravenous appetite is considered beneficial, especially to gardeners. It is a glutton and feeds on nothing but insects (with the exception of a small bird or two) and can be called nature's garden vacuum cleaner.

A single mantis eggcase, hardly an inch in diameter, holds scores of hungry nymphs. Pushing out of the eggcase, they, like butterflies and moths, need only to hang upside down for a few minutes until their bodies and legs harden in the cool air.

Within minutes after hatching, these young cannibals are snatching and devouring destructive insects in your garden. Mantises are also fond of some beneficial insects such as honeybees and ladybugs, but they do away with harmful insects in greater numbers.

The easiest way to stock a garden with mantises is to buy eggcases (available at some nurseries) and tie them to bushes or low trees during late fall, winter or early spring. The nymphs stay secure in the snug eggcases throughout the winter months.

Then when the spring sun is warming in the sky and the air is fine and sweet with the fragrances of roses and the first insects are hatching and humming, the little nymphs crawl out of their cozy bedroom, hang themselves up to dry and charge!

No comments: