By Carl White, Master Gardener and Greenhouse Specialist
To observe this most beneficial insect, the praying stance in which the powerful forelegs are folded into a praying posture gives the appearance of prayer. While being quite gentle, some people actually keep the insect as a pet and feed it regularly with an array of bugs. But gentle may be misleading, as the Praying Mantis can be goaded into a self-defense mode in which it will bite. Though harmless and non-toxic, the larger female sometimes will eat the male that breeds with her.
They are hunted in nature, being a tasty meal for frogs, lizards, birds and spiders. Amazingly, they have sound detection, an ear located on the underside of the thorax that senses bat’s echolocation and when detected, the mantis folds up and dives to the ground, often executing spirals and loops on the way. If caught, they battle effectively with the powerful forelegs that are lined with spikes. This ambush predator is highly effective in hunting, and is an effective jumper. They have wings, but all do not fly, particularly the female. Being classed as a carnivore, they have a great taste for live flesh and will eat hummingbirds. One scientist commented that it is good fortune for humans that this insect is not our size.
It is the homeowner that is the greatest threat to the Mantis. We resort to harmful pesticides for insect control. Thus killing all beneficial insects as well as butterflies. It does harm to hummingbirds and leaves residual toxins.
For the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, call 498-4071 in Odessa, for Midland call 686-4700.