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Nature Notes: Praying mantises a boon to our gardens

If you or I were a garden variety beetle or caterpillar, we would probably be terrified of encountering a praying mantis. Why?

In the insect world, these bizarre-looking creatures are the equivalent of what T. rex must’ve been like in the dinosaur world – huge, deadly, and unstoppable.

Here’s an inventory of this insect’s formidable weaponry:

Mantises can leap or fly after their intended prey. They can change colors from green to brown to blend into their environment. They are the only insect known to have stereo, or 3D vision, which gives them exceptional depth of perception, telling them exactly how far they are away from a moving target, and they have two lightning quick forelegs, armed with spikes, which are used to grab and impale their prey. Mantises also are the only insects capable of turning their heads from side to side. How does this help them?

“Being able to turn its head without moving the rest of its body is a key advantage for a mantis when hunting, allowing for minimal movement as it sneaks up on prey,” notes the website treehugger.com.

Like many other insects, mantises have three life stages: egg, nymph, and adult. To reach adulthood, a process lasting 4-6 months, they will shed their exoskeleton 7-9 times.

Praying mantises can grow up to five inches long and live up to 12 months (in warmer climates) before they, themselves, might fall prey to predators, like frogs or birds.

Thankfully, praying mantises are a boon to farmers and gardeners, devouring lots of unwanted aphids, moths, flies, roaches, crickets, and mosquitoes. And, if you have a garden, like I do, you want these guys prowling in your zucchini or spaghetti squash patch, controlling bad insects. In fact, I’d like two or three!

Bill Hobbs is an admirer of many garden variety insects, and lives in Stonington. He can be reached for comments at whobbs246@gmail.com.

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