Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Insect of the Week - Carolina Mantid

Carolina mantid
(Photo: Patty Alder, NCSU)
Mantids are one of the most well-recognized groups of insects. One of the most distinctive features about mantids is their large, grasping front legs, which they use for grabbing and holding prey. Mantids have a very elongated prothorax and a triangular-shaped head, which they can turn in nearly all directions. The mantid is commonly called the praying mantis, which comes from the way it holds the front legs in "prayer-like" stance. They are sometimes mistakenly referred to as the "preying mantis" because they are predatory, feeding on a wide variety of other insects.

There are actually several species of mantids found in NC. The European mantid and the Chinese species were introduced in the northeast about 75 years ago as garden predators in hopes of controlling the native insect pest populations. The Carolina mantid is a native insect.

Carolina mantid egg case
(Photo: Jim Kalisch)
Carolina mantids overwinter as eggs. Females lay eggs in large masses in a frothy material that hardens into a protective shell, called an ootheca. The new mantids hatch in the spring and mature into adults over the summer.

Mantids are beneficial insects; they feed on other insects, some of which we consider pests. However, their overall effectiveness in pest management is small, especially compared to other insect predators, such lady beetles and green lacewings. This is due to their cannibalistic nature which limits the number of mantids in a particular area.

Rearing mantids for classroom projects
A glass jar set-up for rearing mantids
(Picture: Univ. of AZ)
Egg masses can be collected in the fall and brought into the classroom. Mantid egg cases and young mantids can also be purchased online. Because they are in a warm environment, the mantids may actually hatch as early as December once brought indoors. It's a good idea to have several small containers available because when they hatch, large numbers of very tiny mantids will suddenly appear. If they do not have fresh, live food available, they will eat each other until only one or a few mantids are left.

Small flying insects that are attracted to porch lights are a good source of food for the newly emerged mantids. As they get older and larger, they can be fed larger insects, such as crickets, which can be purchased from pet shops. Mantids do need water, which can be provided by gently misting the inside of the container once a week. Or place a small, wet sponge in the container that the mantid can collect water from.

For more information on rearing mantids, see this rearing sheet prepared by The Center for Insect Science Education Outreach, University of Arizona:  http://insected.arizona.edu/mantidrear.htm.

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