Church had just let out and Joe was waiting for his Mom outside.
“What is that? he heard his friend Ayla exclaim. He wandered over to where she was looking at something on the side walk. When he saw what she was looking at, he picked up his pace.
“Whoa! I’ve never seen one in real life before!”
“What is it?” Ayla asked.
A slow smile spread across Joe’s face. He had always wanted to see one of these up close.
“It’s a praying mantis!”
As luck would have it, Joe had his bug gun and bug house in the van. He sprinted to retrieve them, asking Ayla to watch the bug while he was gone.
Getting the mantis into the bug house proved to be somewhat difficult. Too big to fit in the chamber of the bug gun, Joe had to resort to picking it up. This resulted in a terrified squeal from Ayla and a moment of panic for Joe. The mantis, feeling threatened, bit Joe on the finger. Not enough to draw blood or even to really hurt…just to scare him.
The mantis rode safely stowed in the bug house on Joe’s lap while his mom drove home.
Once there, Joe hopped out of the van and raced for the door.
“Just a minute sweetie!” called his mom. “Please don’t take that thing in the house. We don’t know enough about it yet…it may be able to pry the lid off the bug house and escape for all we know.”
Joe laughed, but obeyed his mom and set the bug house on the back deck before heading inside and grabbing a few references and his Kindle.
He settled in his chair on the deck to study this carnivorous bug. He found that the mantis can live up to 12 months and get up to 6″ long. He peeked inside his bug house. His was easily 6 inches…about the size of a dollar bill.
It’s called the “praying” mantis because its front legs are bent as if they are in prayer. Joe looked more closely and to his surprise, the mantis looked back at him. It seemed to be checking out its new environment. Its head turned 180 degrees, scanning its new digs.
They come in green and brown so that they can easily hide in the garden where they normally live, and wait to ambush any unfortunate bugs with their spiky legs and lightning fast reflexes. Their meals and snacks of choice are moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies and other such insects.
Sometimes, they’ll eat their own if they are hungry enough. But, they can go for up to two weeks without food.
They camouflage themselves so well that Joe counted himself lucky to have found one…or lucky that Ayla had found one.
Joe stopped reading for a moment and thought back to what they ate. He quickly typed in a few search terms and hit enter.
Just what he thought. The praying mantis does not discriminate on what bugs it eats. From garden predators like squash bugs and bean beetles to honeybees and other beneficials…all are fair game for this beastly predator. However, several sites said that, like all carnivorous insects, the mantis will go after the easy kill.
Drumming his fingers, Joe thought back to all of the problems his mom had had with her garden this year–specifically, with insects like squash bugs, vine borers, Japanese beetles and aphids. While the mantis will not eat the plants, it may come across a beneficial that looks like a tasty morsel.
With a determined look, Joe decided it was worth the risk. There were so many critters that either hurt the garden or didn’t give one thought to all of the tasty vegetables and herbs that there would be plenty for this mantis to feast on.
After taking a few pictures, Joe released his new pet into the kitchen garden. It sat for a moment and looked around before, with super speed, it went after its first kill.
“Oh Mom,” he said with a grin. “Guess what I’ve got patrolling for pests!”