Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Praying mantises, or mantids, are the largest insects in your garden. Adults can grow up to 5 inches long. They look frightening, but you want them patrolling your garden. That’s because they are voracious eaters of insects and caterpillars including the ones that can destroy your flowers and vegtables.
What are Praying Mantids?
Praying mantids (Mantodea spp.) are warm region insects. They are found throughout the temperate regions of the world. In all, there are 1800 species worldwide. Only 11 species are native to North America. In addition to the native mantids, both the European mantis and the Chinese mantis were introduced into the Northeast US for insect control.
Mantids range in color from brown to green. Their coloration enables them to blend into the landscape, especially in grasses and shrubbery. This camouflage is important so that their prey do not see them. They are ambush predators. You can find mantids not only in your garden, but also in wilder areas such as pastures, fields and even ditches.
Females lay their eggs in the fall in cases that harden to protect them from the harsh winter weather. The eggs hatch in the spring. The young mature by late summer and then die in the cold winter temperatures after mating and leaving the next generation of eggs behind.
What do Praying Mantids Eat?
Younger, smaller mantids eat insects exclusively. They have no preferred species. They eat any insect that they can catch including caterpillars, butterflies, moths, bees, wasps and flies. Unfortunately, they do not discriminate between “good” bugs such lady bugs and “bad” bugs such aphids. They will eat everything, even each other if they can’t find anything else to eat.
In the late summer when the mantids have reached their adult size, they branch out to other, larger prey. They have been known to eat lizards, rodents, frogs and even hummingbirds.
How do Praying Mantids Catch a Meal?
Praying mantids are ambush predators. They perch on a stick or blade of grass, grasping it with their middle and hind legs. They sit upright, holding their front legs in the familiar prayer position waiting for a meal to walk or fly by. When an unlucky insect comes within reach, the hungry mantid strikes, impaling the insect on its spiny front legs. This happens literally in the blink of an eye.
Do the Female Mantids Kill the Male Mantids After Mating?
Yes! And it actually helps the mating process. The female will try to bite off the head of the male because it will stimulate him to copulate. It also prevents him from eating her first. Of course if every male was killed by the females, there wouldn’t be enough males to go around. The males try to sneak up on the females and quickly inseminate them before jumping away to safety, hopefully before she has a chance to realize what is going on and eating them.
How Do I Attract Praying Mantids to My Garden?
Believe it or not, the best way to attract praying mantids to your yard is to plant shrubbery. The females prefer to lay their egg cases in shrubbery because the dense branches and leaves hide them from hungry birds who consider them a delicacy. It doesn't even have to be large shrubs. I have seen egg cases on lavender bushes. Lots of shrubbery in your yard means lots of places for females to conceal their egg cases. In the spring, you will be rewarded with plenty of hungry baby mantids eager to rid your yard and garden of insects.
You can help matters along in the spring if you find an egg case in a wild place by moving it to a shrub in your yard so that the mantids will hatch where they can do the most good for you.
Questions & Answers
Question: What if you don't have shrubbery?
Answer: If you don't have shrubbery, then you will have fewer praying mantids in your yard. A few may come to your yard looking for something to eat. Shrubbery "attracts" mantids because the females lay their egg cases in shrubbery so you will see many more mantids than if your yard had no shrubbery.
Question: What is usually the host of praying mantis?
Answer: Any kind of shrubbery will attract praying mantis.
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Question: We lost our pet praying mantis. We’ve had him for only a few days. How do we find him?
Answer: Check the plants in your yard. Your praying mantis would head for the nearest plant to catch a meal.
Question: Will any flowering plant work too?
Answer: No, praying mantids prefer evergreen shrubs for their stiff branches and dense foliage. Some woody flowering shrubs such as azaleas will probably work but herbaceous flowering plants are not attractive to them at all. You will see praying mantids on your flowering plants but that is because there is at least one evergreen shrub nearby which is what is really attracting them.
Question: We have lost our pet praying mantis. How do we find her?
Answer: Praying mantis only live for a year, so if you had her longer than a year, she might have died. If she got loose outside, she could have moved out of your yard to another yard or wild area. A bird could have even eaten her.
Question: Which part of Singapore can I find praying mantis?
Answer: You should have no trouble finding praying mantis in Singapore. They are widespread and can be found in forests, scrublands, parks and gardens.
Question: The place where I live is really hot and it's hard to grow shrubbery to arttract praying mantids. How do I attract them in my garden?
Answer: Praying mantids prefer shrubbery because it has a lot of branches and foliage which hides the egg case and young from predators. If you can't grow shrubbery, try growing plants that are very dense and would make good hiding places for the egg cases and young.
Question: In which part of the Philippines can I find a praying mantis?
Answer: The Giant Asian Mantis (Hierodula patellifera) is native to a large part of Southeast Asia. You will find it most commonly in trees or grasslands that are at the edges of forests.
© 2017 Caren White
Caren White (author) on August 31, 2020:
Praying mantids do not occur naturally in the UAE because it is a desert environment. They are insects that live in temperate regions of the world, mainly Europe, China and North America.
yousef on August 31, 2020:
Can you find praying mantises in the UAE (specifically abu dhabi)?.
Caren White (author) on June 01, 2020:
Most nurseries and online retailers sell egg cases in the spring.
Lori Kudela on June 01, 2020:
I had a lot of praying mantis a few years, but the last 2 years nothing . I would like them back. Could you tell me the best time to buy a egg nest ?
Caren White (author) on July 07, 2019:
I'm not surprised to hear this. Praying mantids seem to have good years and bad years. In my own NJ garden, the past two years I had lots of them but I haven't seen a single praying mantis this year. Hopefully, next year will be better for both of us.
Bobby Conroy on July 07, 2019:
Last yr they just showed up in my garden. Awesome right this yr no luck and my plant r doing good but I def need to some but don’t want babies they seem to me to get eaten a lot I want a bigger one anyways?
Caren White (author) on May 21, 2019:
All of my hubs are carefully researched It is a matter of historical record that non-native mantids were introduced as pest control. Mantids of any sort are welcome in organic gardens as part of IPM (Integrated Pest Control) which uses beneficial insects to reduce the populations of pests in gardens.
Colin Purrington on May 15, 2019:
As far as I know, non-native mantids such as the Chinese mantid were accidentally introduced, not brought to United States for pest control. They are now invasive and, per experts, are causing the decline of native mantids such as the Carolina mantid. Not especially good at controlling garden pests, apparently, though if you don't like butterflies they are amazing. All in all, probably a bad thing to have in the garden.
Caren White (author) on August 24, 2017:
Gina, that is so exciting! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Gina145 from South Africa on August 24, 2017:
I had the good fortune of seeing a praying mantis lay her eggs on one of my little trees (bonsai in training) late last summer. It's approaching spring now and I'm anxiously waiting to see if the eggs will hatch.