When winter strips the landscape of its greenery and exposes the framework that gives it shape, sometimes it reveals the unexpected. While walking Our Little Acre a few weeks ago, I noticed several growths on the spiraea bushes. Suspecting galls or something similar, upon closer inspection I discovered something that had the appearance of crystalized brown sugar. Some were larger than others, ranging from one to two inches in length. They looked like they would disintegrate easily if I tried to remove them from the branches. Though my curiosity made me want to do just that, something told me not to and that I'd better investigate further.
I went in the house, got my camera, and went back outside to take a close-up photo so that I could post it online in hopes that someone could identify them for me.
I sat down at the computer, logged into Dave's Garden and went to the Garden Pests and Diseases forum. I suspected there was an insect involved, but didn't know if it was friend or foe. As I looked at the topics already posted, I soon discovered that I wasn't the only one who had these strange 'growths' on their trees and bushes. And when I found out what we had here, I was thrilled! Tucked inside the brown sugar casings are praying mantis eggs! Hundreds of them!
We had several praying mantids up around the house last summer. One day, as I was crouched down, pulling weeds from around the daisies, I saw the teeniest, tiniest praying mantis I've ever seen. In fact, at just half an inch in length, I'm surprised I saw it at all. I wanted to take a picture of it, but it was so small, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find it again if I went in to get the camera. Not to worry. It stayed put and I snapped several images of it. Such an incredible, tiny, detailed thing it was and the pictures didn't begin to convey its diminutive size.
Later in the summer, I was checking out at Home Depot (yes, buying plants) and the woman at the cash register stuttered, "You...you...you've got...you've got a big, green bug on you!!" Another employee nearby turned to look and I asked them where it was. They told me it was on my right shoulder. I looked over and as I did, The Big Green Bug crawled straight up the middle of my face. I recognized it just before it reached my face, as a praying mantis. It was sitting on top of my head, so I reached up and grabbed it and placed it on the hanging plant I was buying, saying, "If you don't mind, I think I'll take this home with me, too. Bonus!" The poor woman at the cash register was still trying to get her hyperventilation problem under control.
I love praying mantises. They are so unique and beautiful in form. They're carnivorous, and eat aphids, mosquitoes, flies, and cockroaches, yet they carry no disease and don't bite humans. They are the only predator that eats moths after dark (when they're most active) and the only insect fast enough to catch mosquitoes and flies. If they don't have a ready supply of fresh, live food, they will eat each other. This behavior is legendary when it comes to the mating act, but juvenile mantids will do this as well. They also are the only insect that can turn its head a full 180° in each direction.
In spring or early summer, the baby mantids will hatch from the eggs contained inside the casings. Each casing contains 50-200 eggs and I counted twenty of them on our bushes, so we should have no shortage of praying mantises this summer. Cool.