Mantis Watch 2009

Photo by Gayla Trail All Rights Reserved

As previously mentioned, I bought a praying mantis egg case at the Parkdale Horticultural Society Plant Sale the other day.

It’s not exactly the most effective form of pest prevention in the garden for a few reasons: 1. Praying mantids are not discerning and will eat any and all insects in the garden, including the beneficials you were hoping to keep around. 2. Baby mantids cannibalize each other as soon as they emerge so a percentage are lost that way. 3. The bulk of the hungry little critters that make it without being devoured by their brothers and sisters take off for greener pastures as soon as they get the chance. It’s not like you can put them on a microscopic leash and force them to eat up all the baddies in your garden.

I’ve done the praying mantis egg case thing before as a form of pest control in the garden and really don’t have a need for it. At least, not on the roof. I attract a lot of beneficials via companion planting and things are generally under control save the plants that are particularly susceptible. The community garden could probably use some help, but I’m being selfish here. I really didn’t buy this batch because I needed pest control, I bought it because I have a lifelong love of praying mantids and thought it would be fun to watch them hatch. About a thousand years ago, when I was in grade one, a teacher brought an egg case to school in a bucket and I remember how exciting it was to watch mantids in miniature form emerge from the casing. And then, unfortunately, proceed to cannibalize each other. Memories! That event sparked a domino effect in my little brain that lead to me combing the young science section of the local library for information on these fascinating insects, and keeping a few as pests for short periods of time. To this day, by habit, I still scan for the spongy egg casings on dead plant twigs whenever I’m out walking in a field.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Back to today. Under normal circumstances, one would simply hang the little egg case, still in the bag it came in, in a bush or plant in your garden and leave it. The babies will emerge on their own once the temperature is warm enough. But the last time I did this I missed the emergence and never did see a single mantis. This time I want to see it. As per the instructions on the package, I sealed the egg casing inside a white paper bag and tapped it to a south-facing window. Unfortunately, I did not have a white paper bag. Where do you get white paper bags and why do you need them? But then I remembered the former feminine hygiene disposal bags that I grabbed from an airport bathroom a few months back to use as gift bags for friends. Before you think it, they weren’t used!

And that’s where the egg casing is now — tucked inside a paper feminine hygiene bag and stuck to my office window with green painter’s tape. I’ll let you know how it goes and will provide a photo update when the happy day arrives. The hope is that it happens while I am here (I check obsessively) and can catch it BEFORE they eat too many of their siblings, which happens whether or not they are in a bag. Nature is sometimes cruel.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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20 thoughts on “Mantis Watch 2009

  1. Now I want some mantids too. A couple of years ago neighbor kids found one in their garden and I was as jealous as can be. Mostly, because they don’t have much of a garden to speak of besides “wild flowers” the owner scattered around.

    Anyway, whenever I need a white paper bag I always get an extra bag or two when I got to the bakery. Don’t know why, but white paper bags are a staple of Mexican bakeries around here. Wonder what they have against brown paper bags, brown if beautiful!

  2. That is amazing! We don’t have Mantids in this country but I wish we did!

    Please update us on how this project progresses.


  3. I don’t share your love of the mantis, but it *would* be neat if you got pictures of the little babies emerging. And eating each other.

    Paper bags can be had from bakeries, as MyBrownThumb said, or from delicatessens. Or even, sometimes, from a diner if you get coffee to go.

    Beneficial insects are great, mostly because of the element of hope they bring to the garden. Unlike pesticide, which is all about death, beneficials are pretty (ladybugs!) and alive and all you want them to do is what they are intent on doing, anyway.

  4. On the subject of beneficial bugs, can one buy ladybugs or other “good” insects? Online maybe? I have a rather lush patio garden, that seems to have an aphid problem.

  5. I lurve mantids. I had a case as a student and spent ridiculous amounts of time combing the neighborhood for wee bugs to feed to the voracious babies. I’m not sure if all university or college genetics department staff as friendly, but I was able to plead for a tube of curly-winged fruit flies out of my local U and it helped immensely. (Curly winged are best since they can’t fly -either to evade the mantids or get into your bowl of fruit.) Baby crickets were also handy.
    Mantids are so fun to watch, I love their movements and super speed as they hunt plus how fastidious they are about keeping themselves well-groomed!
    I very much look forward to your updates!!

  6. When I was about 9 I put an egg sack on a stick in a peanut butter jar (clean) and poked holes in the lid. I thought it was a butterfly chrysalis and ignorantly kept it in my room. It was a few weeks before they hatched and -boy!- did they get everywhere. I was cleaning little dudes out of my dresser for weeks…
    Sure are fun to watch, though!

  7. They are the coolest, yet creepiest (sp?) things. When they look you directly in the eye I just know they are trying to decide if I might be as tasty as their sibs!

    Please tell met the bag is taped to the OUTside of the window? :-) Can’t wait to see pics.

  8. Man do we have bugs in Africa. We see mandids quite often in the house and the garden, and all sorts of other things, like lacewings. I squashed a whole colony of black aphids being farmed by ants on some bean plants earlier today.

    I also found a queen ant in my bathroom cabinet which I stuck in a little Antworks environment. It has layed some eggs and now I’m going to have to get some perspex and expand it.

  9. Jo: Yes, you can buy ladybugs and other beneficial insects. The trouble with ladybugs is that they are often collected from the wild and like mantids don’t often stick around. Lacewings are an option, or you can try attracting predators to our garden by planting the plants they love.

  10. omg. I have an egg case of something on my fence and I didn’t know what it was. I tried to take a picture but nothing could focus close enough. I looked up a praying mantis egg case pic on google and thats what it looks like! I’m so excited. I love bugs. Usually. I’ve seen one on a bush before but never saw them come out. So maybe somehow I’ll put a paper bag over it and check it out.

  11. pretty ingenious to use a feminine hygiene bag! i recently picked up a prescription in a lightweight bag from the pharmacy. that probably would have worked well for this odd job.

  12. Love the mantids, I try every year & most years see 1 or 2 left in my yard by the end of summer. Nice blog, funny post.

  13. hi, i just found this website, how exciting! anyway, they have ladybugs lots of places, i dont know where you are, but at least 2 of my local nurseries have them, plus ace hardware where i just bought my praying mantis eggs. i have one of those net butterfly habitats that i was supposed to order the butterfly chrysalis for my son and never did. im gonna put the mantis eggs in there in hopes that we can see some action! i did it once before, just put it in a tree. i did one in the wisteria in my backyard and never saw any, but i put the other one in my front flowerbed, in a little bush, which isnt really near any other trees or shrubbery at all, and we watched lots of the little guys for about a week, they stayed around, it was so cool. i think it was the kind of isolation that did it?

  14. hi again… so last night i opened the mantis box that i had left on my windowsill meaning to put in the net thing, and there were a bunch of them crawling around in there! i felt awful for neglecting them, and assumed that they had already emerged and the handful i was seeing were the lone victors. but i found the butterfly habitat and put the casings in there anyway and left it outside. well, this morning my eyes were barely open and my 6 year old came in and asked if he could go check on the bugs. i grunted something at him and he left the room. well, 30 seconds later he came running into the room screeching at the top of his lungs, i thought his head was gonna explode “THERES TOOOOO MANY THERES TOOOOO MANY!!!” the tendons were standing out in his neck! hilarious. whatever else the mantids do and dont do outside, its all worth it just for that. needless to say, we spent the morning “freeing them” one at a time, and the afternoon back at the store getting more. we cant wait :)

  15. Hi, I was just browsing links at Mother Earth News and found your site. What a great post – I would love to try raising my own Praying Mantids…seeing one in the wild is always such a treat. I hope yours emerge soon!

  16. Deb: LOVE your story! My six year old and I just today found our Mantid casing hatching! What is it with six year olds and screaching…. anyway we led to freedom in my Bleeding Heart bush and watched as they scurried away. We kept a few because she is their “mommy” now and needs to watch then grow up. Lucky for me, she loves bugs so she can go scouting for their supper ;)

    Can’t wait to hear about your batch Gayla!!

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