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Garden Allies: Mantids

Articles: Garden Allies: Mantids

Late on a balmy summer evening I saw a strange looking pair of mating mantids (or mantises—either is correct) hunting night-flying insects near the porch light. Approaching to take a closer look, I was astonished to discover a hapless, headless male closely clasping his paramour even in death. The female had bitten off his head while mating. Although this gruesome behavior, known as sexual cannibalism, is well known among mantids in captivity, it is rarer in nature where food is more abundant.

Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) Illustration: Craig Latker

Mantids, it seems, are always hungry. Tiny young nymphs the size of an ant, emerge from an ootheca, a foamy proteinaceous egg mass that looks like beige styrofoam, and almost immediately scatter widely. In a confined space, they will turn on each other for a convenient meal. Carnivorous young mantids dine on tiny prey such as fruit flies and aphids, although some are known to first feed on pollen before switching to insects as they grow. In the garden, mantids have a reputation for eating pests; however, as generalist predators they eat whatever meal wand...

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