Save the Carolina Mantis
Carolina Mantises (Stagmomantis carolina) are praying mantises native to our area, but must compete with invasive mantis species like the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinesis) and the European Mantis (Mantis religiosa) for food. These invasive mantises have by and large naturalized themselves in the Chesapeake Bay area, and are indiscriminate predators. There is a prevailing misconception that these large mantises only eat pests, but they will actually eat anything that crosses their path. While native mantises have an important role to play in the garden, purchasing the invasive species as pest control actually lowers the biodiversity of all species and is an ineffective pest control at best.
Since there is no way to safely eradicate the species, the next best thing we can do is to try to preserve the Carolina Mantis. While we don’t always eradicate adult invasive mantises, we do a thorough check of every plant to remove invasive egg sacs (called ootheca) before it leaves the nursery so that we can create a safe space for Carolina Mantises to thrive and to prevent the spread of these invasive species from our meadow to yours. As our nursery population grows, we can hopefully send Carolina Mantis egg sacs out in the world with our plants.
Carolina mantises are much smaller than their invasive counterparts (2-2.5” in length) and are a mottled brown, grey, or green in color. Their color varies from molt to molt as they adjust to their environment. The ootheca of the Carolina Mantis is brown and tubular with distinctive dark vertical stripes.
In contrast, Chinese Mantises are much larger (5” in length) and are overall green or brown with a lateral green stripe on the borders of the front wings. This species is especially pervasive since they are often sold by garden stores as pest control or pets. Their ootheca are easier to spot: they are tan-colored teardrop-shaped puffs.
European Mantises area but smaller (4” in length) and can change color between yellow, brown, green, or black, possibly due to changes in environment or temperature. Their ootheca looks very similar to that of the Carolina Mantis, but lacks the dark stripes/ridges.
Help Fight Insect Habitat Loss
Insect populations have declined by an estimated 45% worldwide in the last four decades due to habitat loss, agro-chemical pollutants, invasive species, and climate change. Insects are vital: they pollinate our food and other plants, predatory insects help control pest populations, they aid in the decomposition of dead plants, animals, and feces, and are integral parts of food chains and food webs.
What can we, as individuals, do to help insect populations? Let’s tackle one cause of population decline: loss of habitat. Shown above is our wildflower field overlooking the nursery with woods beyond. We purposely allow this area to grow wild as a way to attract insects that are beneficial to our plants and to provide both woodland and grassland habitats. We also use logs as barriers in the nursery and to provide homes to boring insects (as in they make holes, not that they’re not interesting).
You can help insect populations by allowing portions of your yard to grow wild; habitats for insects would increase by more than 4 million acres in the US if every home, school, and park converted 10% of its lawns to wild space. You can also:
-Mow less often, especially in summer when insects are most active.
-Leave fallen sticks in the garden, leave bare earth uncovered in the fall, and don’t rake leaves before winter.
-Curb the use of insecticides and herbicides on your lawn on in your garden.
-Limit exterior lighting that attracts and can kill nocturnal insects.
And of course, grow native plants.
Check out these articles and podcast to learn more about the vanishing insect population.