Praying or Preying Mantis?

Last summer, I was fortunate in obtaining a clear picture of a very large Mantis. I researching the Mantis (I also have a small lightweight tiller by that name) I found that the adjectives Praying or Preying is more than a play on words. Their reproductive habits are fascinating, not terribly unlike the Black Widow Spider

The insect order Mantodea or mantises consists of approximatively 2,300 species worldwide in temperate and tropical habitats, of which a majority are in the family Mantidae. Often mistakenly spelled preying mantis (an eggcorn, since they are notoriously predatory), they are in fact named for the typical «prayer-like» stance. The word mantis derives from the Greek word mantis for prophet or fortune teller. In Europe, the name «praying mantis» refers to only a single species, Mantis religiosa. The closest relatives of mantises are the orders Isoptera (termites) and Blattodea (cockroaches), and these three groups together are sometimes ranked as an order rather than a super order.

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Mantises are notable for their hunting abilities. They are exclusively predatory, and their diet usually consists of living insects, including flies and aphids; larger species have been known to prey on small lizards, frogs, birds, snakes, and even rodents. Most mantises are ambush predators, waiting for prey to stray too near. The mantis then lashes out at remarkable speed. Some ground and bark species, however, pursue their prey rather quickly. Prey are caught and held securely with grasping, spiked forelegs («raptorial legs»); the first thoracic segment, the prothorax, is commonly elongated and flexibly articulated, allowing for greater range of movement of the front limbs while the remainder of the body remains more or less immobile. The articulation of the head is also remarkably flexible, permitting nearly 300 degrees of movement in some species, allowing for a great range of vision (their compound eyes have a large binocular field of vision) without having to move the remainder of the body. As their hunting relies heavily on vision, they are primarily diurnal, but many species will fly at night, and can be commonly encountered at lights.

Mantises are masters of camouflage and most species make use of protective coloration to blend in with the foliage or substrate, both to avoid predators themselves, and to better snare their victims. Various species have adapted to not only blend with the foliage, but to mimic it, appearing as either living or withered leaves, sticks, tree bark, blades of grass, flowers, or even stones. Some species in Africa and Australia are able to turn black after a molt following a fire in the region to blend in with the fire ravaged landscape (fire melanism). While mantises can bite, they have no venom, and are not dangerous to humans. They do not appear to be chemically protected; nearly any large predatory animal will eat a mantis if it is able to detect it (mantises are generally quite aggressive towards one another, in fact, and most species are readily cannibalistic when given the opportunity).

Sexual cannibalism is common among mantises in captivity, and under some circumstances may also be observed in the field. The female may start feeding by biting off the male’s head (as with any prey), and if mating had begun, the male’s movements may become even more vigorous in its delivery of sperm. Early researchers thought that because copulatory movement is controlled by ganglion in the abdomen, not the head, removal of the male’s head was a reproductive strategy by females to enhance fertilisation while obtaining sustenance. Later, this bizarre behaviour appeared to be an artifact of intrusive laboratory observation. Whether the behaviour in the field is natural, or also the result of distractions caused by the human observer, remains controversial. Mantises are highly visual creatures, and notice any disturbance occurring in the laboratory or field such as bright lights or moving scientists. Research by Liske and Davis (1987) and others found (e.g. using video recorders in vacant rooms) that Chinese mantises that had been fed ad libitum (so were not starving) actually displayed elaborate courtship behaviour when left undisturbed. The male engages the female in courtship dance, to change her interest from feeding to mating. Courtship display has also been observed in other species, but it does not hold for all mantises.

The reason for sexual cannibalism has been the subject of some debate, with some considering submissive males to be achieving a selective advantage in their ability to produce offspring. This theory is supported by a quantifiable increase in the duration of copulation among males who are cannibalized, in some cases doubling both the duration and the chance of fertilization. This is further supported in a study where males were seen to approach hungry females with more caution, and were shown to remain mounted on hungry females for a longer time, indicating that males actively avoiding cannibalism may mate with multiple females. The act of dismounting is one of the most dangerous times for males during copulation, for it is at this time that females most frequently cannibalize their mates. This increase in mounting duration was thought to indicate that males would be more prone to wait for an opportune time to dismount from a hungry female rather than from a satiated female that would be less likely to cannibalize its mate. Some consider this to be an indication that male submissiveness does not inherently increase male reproductive success, rather that more fit males are likely to approach a female with caution and escape.

The mating season in temperate countries typically begins in autumn. To mate following courtship, the male usually leaps onto the female’s back, and clasps her thorax and wing bases with his forelegs. He then arches his abdomen to deposit and store sperm in a special chamber near the tip of the female’s abdomen.

Depending on the species, the female then lays between 10 to 400 eggs. These are typically deposited in a frothy mass that is produced by glands in the abdomen. This froth then hardens, creating a protective capsule with a further protective coat, and the egg mass is called an ootheca. Depending on the species these can be attached to a flat surface, wrapped around a plant or even deposited in the ground. In spite of the versatility and durability of the eggs, they are often preyed on, especially by several species of parasitic wasps. In a few species, the mother guards the eggs.

As in related insect groups, mantises go through three stages of metamorphosis: egg, nymph, and adult. The nymph and adult insect are structurally quite similar, except that the nymph is smaller and has no wings or functional genitalia. The nymphs are also sometimes colored differently from the adult, and the early stages are often mimics of ants. A mantis nymph increases in size (often changing its diet as it does so) by replacing its outer body covering with a sturdy, flexible exoskeleton and molting when needed. This can happen up to five to ten times, depending on the species. After the final molt most species have wings, though some species are wingless or brachypterous («short-winged»), particularly in the female sex.

In tropical species, the natural lifespan of a mantis in the wild is about 10-12 months, but some species kept in captivity have been sustained for 14 months. In colder areas, females will die during the winter (as will any surviving males).

Bees Aren’t the Only Pollinators

They may not be the only pollinators, but they surely get most of the attention. The attention is well-deserved since the bee population is declining. There are many reasons for the decline of bees—the latest possibility is climate change. It has been found that the weather is warming up earlier and causing plants to bloom before the bees come out of hibernation. Because of this, many plants aren’t pollinated at all or at a much lower rate. Our fruits and vegetables could become scarce if this continues. Although the act of pollinating benefits us humans, the pollinators are actually interested in the nectar that is hidden in the base of the flower. As the insect moves from flower to flower, it carries the pollen and fertilizes the flower to make a seed, which may be disguised as a fruit or vegetable.

Lucky for us there are other insects that pollinate plants. Looking at a chart of bloom periods shows that many trees (river birch, maple, serviceberry, and willow) are pollinated in March; and in April (flowering dogwood, silver bell, tulip poplar and eastern redbud). A few perennials are pollinated in April (sage, lupine, cranesbills, phlox, and crested iris). The pollinators for these early bloomers include bees, flies, beetles, butterflies, and moths. The perennial wildflower, bloodroot, can be pollinated as early as March by bees, beetles, or flies. The river birch is pollinated by wind in March or April. Yes, wind is a major pollinator of evergreen trees and grains—this is why we are threatened by a diet of oatmeal if we lose our insect pollinators.

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Throughout the late spring and summer it is easy for everyone to see and observe the many insects, bats, hummingbirds, and small animals such as meadow voles and mice that transfer the pollen with their fur.

If we skip ahead to the fall months, the frequency of pollination lessens but does not end. Both New Jersey tea shrubs and dwarf sumac are pollinated in September. Perennials yield a larger list: various asters, several sunflowers, and goldenrods. In October some of these same perennials are still being pollinated, and wavy-leaved aster can be pollinated as late as November. In these later months some of the migrating butterflies perform the pollination service along with the usual pollinators.

In general there is little pollination in December, January, or February. But think of the witch hazel shrub. Depending on the type, it can bloom in November (the native type), or January, February or March for the Chinese or Japanese types of witch hazel. A few bright sunny days in February can bring out the sweet-smelling blossoms and attract flies and maybe some bees. The hellebore, also known as the Christmas rose, can be blooming in the snow and is pollinated by beetles. And snowdrops, early crocus, and early daffodils all need to be pollinated by whatever insect has come out of hibernation or has hatched from its egg.

In order to have butterflies that pollinate our flowering plants, we must also have the caterpillar they come from. Caterpillars can be very specific in what they will eat. The Monarch butterfly caterpillar only eats leaves from the milkweed family after it has hatched from the egg. This is the most well-known combination, but every caterpillar has its preferred food. If caterpillars are eating your parsley just plant more so there is enough for the insects and for you. If you consider violets in your grass a weed to be killed, you are destroying the habitat of the Fritillary butterfly’s caterpillar. Thistles may be considered noxious weeds, but they support Painted Lady butterflies. Many of the best host plants are natives. The plants and the insects they support have developed together to form a symbiotic relationship.

To attract more pollinators, try to add plants that provide additional seasons of bloom, create various heights for shelter, and include the host plants. Your garden may look a little messy with dead snags and leaf litter but you are providing food and shelter for all the pollinators. You will find that you enjoy your garden a lot more when you discover an insect previously unknown to you and are able to observe varieties of butterflies and birds that make your garden more exciting.

38 Garden Design Ideas Turning Your Home Into a Peaceful Refuge

If you are looking for inspiration in garden designs, you have come to the right place. This post gathers quite a few landscaping ideas that can get you started in planning the garden you’ve always dreamed about. You will find a variety of garden styles in the photos below, all you have to do is pick your favorite and begin further research. The right garden accessories and plant species can set the tone for an incredible outdoor atmosphere, an invigorating place of retreat. You can embark on a memorable gardening adventure yourself, or you can hire a landscape architect to help with advice. Either way, designing your garden should be a fun, relaxing experience. Green labyrinths, cobblestone pathways, small ponds, water fountains, colorful flowers and small round trees flanking your way around the yard- these are all elements that can induce a wonderful state. After all, there is nothing like enjoying a fresh morning surrounded by your own green refuge, or taking some well deserved time off in the afternoon, after a long day’s work. Enjoy the photos below and tell us if you find these garden ideas helpful, by leaving a comment below. What sort of gardening tips would you like us to help with in the future ?

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ANNUAL FLOWERS TO CONSIDER FOR YOUR GARDEN THIS YEAR

Now is the time to dream of summer flowers – and buy seeds for some of them. I have run a landscape design/build company for almost 30 years and every year I make sure to include annual flowers in our clients’ landscapes. I know you may cringe when you hear that you have to plant these seeds or little flowers anew every year but the non-stop blooms are well worth it! Here are a few of my favorite annual flowers from some of our plantings. Please note that some are considered a perennial in warmer growing zones.

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