The Mantis Claus: Mostly true story!

We wrote 'Twas the week before Christmas...

...about our preying mantis adventure because it was an unusual event and we were having such fun. If you've read it, and wonder: It's true except for the visit by Mantis Claus:


One night working late, Janet reached to thump a spider that dropped onto her keyboard. She stopped when she noticed it wasn't a spider but a tiny preying mantis.

We realized that the preying mantis egg case they'd found the previous week had been in the warm long enough so that perhaps... yup, it had hatched! Tiny mantises were emerging and fanning out.

What a shame, we thought. If we hadn't interfered the hatch would've waited until spring. These mantids would have spread outdoors and done some good in the garden. (Sure, preying mantises have a down side. It's true they eat absolutely everything they come upon, including "good guy" bugs. That means they aren't so helpful as ladybugs if you want something to sic on scale or aphids. However, they do hang out and feast where insects are plentiful, and it's plant-eaters that most often form those crowds they prey upon. As for the other argument against them, that they eat what you'd rather they didn't, it's only the end of summer adult mantises that are big enough to grab big butterflies and little hummingbirds...)






Can we catch any of these, then save them from starving here in the house? Well yes, we can catch some but what then? It's December. They'd die if we put them outside. And although we've had mantids indoors in winter (we just extended the life of adults we found in fall), those free range guests were large enough to eat store-bought crickets. This horde of little guys would need tiny insects. The pickings in that category are lean this time of year.





We had one aphid-bearing Brussels sprouts plant left in a garden (Why? Another story!). We brought some of its leaves indoors and put them in vases near the mantids. As we watched, we realized that these were infant mantises, still learning to catch and kill. Their bumbling was a far cry from the prowess of the adults we've had roaming our houseplants, which have been so formidable that even our cat gave them a wide berth.











Then, we thought, "What next?"











We made some calls, offending a few friends before we learned to phrase our question carefully, "Hey, do you have any insect infested plants in the house?" On one of those calls we were reminded about Mike Maran, a grower at Telly's Greenhouse, the integrated pest manager at the Shelby Township location. "He uses a lot of beneficial insects and other bio-controls rather than chemical pesticides."







Right! We called Telly's owner, George Papadelis, and then Maran. To our relief, both greeted the offer of fifty mantises with enthusiasm. So a short while later we rounded up all the mantises we could, putting them in groups of 5 or 6 into plastic containers, then dashed out. (The rush was because we'd noticed that their natural distancing was about 18 inches, and we've heard mantises will even eat other mantids. So we didn't want to leave them closer together than that any longer than necessary.)

Maran released the mantises individually, explaining that he's employed indiscriminate killers like mantids before. Yet most of the time he uses specific predators for particular pests that might appear here and there -- incursions that happen when new plants arrive, or when the greenhouse vents are open to the outdoors.

Recently, for instance, he had to learn about a scale insect he hadn't seen before, calico scale, when it arrived on some citrus plants. Only a certain type of ladybug eats that scale, so he bought them in.




At right, calico scale adults, which resemble tiny Shih Tzu dogs wearing brightly embroidered saddles. The immature scale "crawlers" are also visible -- left arrow. Crystalline beads -- right arrow -- are the scale excrement called honeydew that drips from these insects, causing scale infested plants to develop a sticky surface and then a layer of dark sooty mold.



Maran released each of our mantids. We're wishing them well!