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Shepherd Mantis

A good subject, an ideal setting, but so little time.

July 16, 2015 Close Ups / Insects

It’s been a good summer for insects in our garden. Mild temperatures and regular rains have provided the right conditions for some of our favorite small creatures and the plants they feed on. We’ve seen a species of spider unfamiliar to us that will take us to the field-guide books soon for identification. And a surprising number of butterflies have made their way to the perennials in the border beds and the annuals in planters.

But the biggest surprise was a couple of praying mantises (the plural is really "mantids") that have resided here all summer. They staked claims to the perennial geraniums and black-eyed susans. There, they have grown from one-inch youngsters to four-inch winged adults while feeding mostly on assorted flies that visit those flowers. This one is an adolescent as is indicated by its undeveloped wings.

Praying mantis on phlox.

The Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) is not native to the U.S., as you'd guess from its name. It was imported as a novelty or by mistake – stories go both directions. It hunts other insects and relies on camouflage and stealth to hide from its prey and its enemies. There is a North American native species of mantis, but we’ve never seen it in our garden or in the wild. That’s how uncommon and well disguised it is.

The debate continues about how beneficial non-native praying mantids are versus how they compete with native mantids and how they feed on beneficial native insects like bees, butterflies and other pollinators. But regardless how that discussion goes, we will always be fascinated by them in the garden or in the prairie. The juvenile one in this photo waits on the tall garden phlox for an unsuspecting insect. I told Mary its nickname could be “shepherd bug” since it is keeping watch over our phlox.



SUBJECT: Chinese praying mantis (Tenodera sinensis) on Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)

EQUIPMENT AND TECHNIQUE: This photo (which is cropped a little) was taken with my Samsung cell phone's camera. It's 8-megapixel capacity isn't "pro quality," but compare that to the first Nikon digital camera I saw in the late 1990s that was 2.5 megapixels and about $5,000. Regarding this photo, it was a busy day and we were already late for dinner with friends. How I'd like to have had my camera, macro lens, tripod and an unhurried hour. So many insects, so little time.

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