Watering a flower bed last evening, I flushed out a praying mantis that was lounging in the black-eyed susans. Crawling to the top of those summer blossoms, it waited out my disturbance, gently swaying to blend with the movement of the vegetation.
Though docile and fragile in appearance, the praying mantis, one of twenty mantids in North American, is a ferocious predator, snaring insects with its barbed forelegs. Equipped with a highly mobile "neck," two large compound eyes and three simple eyes, this hunter is very adept at locating and catching prey as small as mosquitoes; it also feeds on larger victims such as crickets and grasshoppers (and juvenile mantids) and female mantises, larger than the males, are known to devour their suitor after (or while) mating. Since they are also active at night, praying mantises often stake out a porch light, feasting on hapless months and beetles that are drawn in from the darkness.
Pregnant females deposit their eggs in a frothy tube that is generally attached to plant stems but may be placed under the eaves of sheds and porches; this hardens into a firm egg case that is often raided by birds or mice during the winter months. If undisturbed, the case will yield up to 200 hatchlings in the spring, all tiny replicas of the adults that died in the autumn chill. Those not eaten by shrews, mice, snakes or songbirds will stalk our shrubs and gardens, welcome and natural agents of insect control.