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This predator is fascinating, colorful — and problematic

Praying mantid can be both good and bad


Purple mantid on lavender rose
A mantid has changed color while hanging out on a Fragrant Lavender Simplicity rose. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)


This fascinating creature changes its color to blend into its surroundings. When that backdrop is a purple or orange rose, that makes for interesting camouflage.

This August, I’ve been watching the praying mantids that inhabit my rose garden. They have an appetite for aphids, which makes them welcome on my no-spray bushes.

But really, mantids will eat anything that comes near their huge forelegs, which also makes them problematic. They’re a beneficial insect that also eats other beneficials, such as bees or butterflies.

Recently, I watched in horror as a mantid ripped off the head of a little sweat bee that had come too close to the floribunda where the predator was lurking. The mantid watched me as it ate, cocking its triangular head as if waiting for a reaction. “That’s not very nice,” I scolded, too late to help the poor bee.

What would you expect? Mantids aren’t nice; the females famously cannibalize their own species after mating.

Their indiscriminate consumption of other insects has downgraded the praying mantid (or mantis) status as garden good guy. The UC Integrated Pest Management pest notes do not recommend their introduction.

“Although mantids are fascinating creatures, they are of no benefit for biological pest control,” say the pest notes. “Mantids feed on any insect they can catch, and commonly prey indiscriminately on beneficial and nonpest species including bees, butterflies and syrphids. Even if mantids specialized on pests, this likely would be of little benefit; mantids are relatively inactive, and despite their large size, each individual consumes relatively few insects.”

Adds the UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners, “As mantids consume both pests and beneficials, they are difficult to use reliably for biological control.”

Nonetheless, I let my mantids continue to roam my rose beds, if only for the entertainment. No other insect puts on such a colorful show – and it doesn’t eat the roses.

One morning, a mantid might be bright green and roam onto a rose in search of food. By afternoon, it’s the same shade as the flower – pink, orange or purple. And it doesn’t mind if people watch.

For more about mantids here:
https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu/natural-enemies/mantids/

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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