Praying Mantis

Young praying mantises, or nymphs, emerging from their ootheca - the hard, protective shell that helps them survive during the wintertime.

There are over 2,000 different types of praying mantises worldwide, yet there are only two prevalent invasive species worth arguing about here in the United States! Both species - the Chinese mantis, Tenodera aridifolia, and the European mantis, Mantis religiosa - were introduced to North America by humans. The European mantis apparently was introduced as pest control for another invasive critter, the gypsy moth caterpillar, over 100 years ago. The first formal record is in Rochester, New York circa 1900, and shows they were brought in to help control pest populations. Supposedly, the Chinese mantids were accidentally introduced in 1896 by a person who worked at a nursery in Mt. Airy near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I never knew the complications of the various praying mantises and the importance of distinctions. It's enough to make a mantid's head spin off its neck, which they can almost do with 180° turns.

My biggest problem, or so I thought, was remembering if the spelling was "praying" or "preying". It is an insect that preys, but it also holds its arms in a praying pose.

Now, there are many other types of native and invasive species here, but there is hardly a mention, except for the native Carolina mantis, Stagmomantis carolina. This is a smaller, gray-colored praying mantis. This smaller mantis still is a cannibal, eating ferociously, but is preferred over the larger mantis species. The internet touts the survival of this mantis above all others because it may become extinct. The European mantis is on an endangered list in some countries, but not ours.

Praying mantises can be good for your garden, or not. They eat all insects, even precious pollinators, small amphibians, and even hummingbirds! The insect kingdom is not a place I want to mess with. We need bugs, no matter how terrifying they can be to some, namely me.

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