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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:


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For week of Nov. 26:

Concentrate on helping your garden stay comfortable during these frosty nights – and clean up all those leaves!

* Irrigate frost-tender plants such as citrus in the late afternoon. That extra soil moisture increases temperatures around the plant a few degrees, just enough to prevent frost damage. The exception are succulents; too much water before frost can cause them to freeze.

* Cover sensitive plants before the sun goes down. Use cloth sheets or frost cloths, not plastic sheeting, to hold in warmth. Make sure to remove covers in the morning.

* Use fall leaves as mulch around shrubs and vegetables. Mulch acts as a blanket and keeps roots warmer.

* Stop dead-heading; let rose hips form on bushes to prompt dormancy.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location – and definitely indoors overnight. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they’ll bloom again next December.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Plant spring bulbs. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Daffodils can be planted without pre-chilling.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers and plant such spring bloomers as sweet peas, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Plant trees and shrubs. They’ll benefit from fall and winter rains while establishing their roots.

* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins now. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb.

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