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Gardening in Washington State

Praying Mantids – Defender of Home Landscapes

Praying mantids are among the largest (1 to 4 inches long) and most recognizable garden predators—and they’re not fussy about what they catch and eat. They are “sit and wait” predators that pounce on any insect that comes too close, including beneficial in­sects, like bees and butterflies. The most common species in the Pacific Northwest is the European mantid (Mantis religiosa). Praying mantids are most often seen in the garden from mid-summer to mid-autumn.  After laying a number of white, hard-foam egg cases (which overwinter attached to branches and trunks), Mantids are typically killed off by the first frosts of autumn. They kill and consume a good number of pests like caterpillars and flies, but their contribution to garden pest control is usually less than their larger-than-life image.

Mantis
An adult female praying mantid, Mantis religiosa, poised on potted poinsettia plant in search of its next arthropod meal.  Photo by Mike Bush, WSU Extension.

For more information on beneficial arthropods in the home landscape, see WSU Extension manual EM067E- Beneficial Insects, Spiders, and Other Mini-Creatures in Your Garden: Who They Are and How to Get Them to Stay on-line at http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/EM067E/EM067E.pdf

Submitted by: Michael R. Bush, August 11, 2014

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62 comments on “Praying Mantids – Defender of Home Landscapes”

  1. Carolyn Raymond said on September 22, 2015:

    I found a female Praying Mantis outside and brought it inside. Put it in a “Kritter Keeper” cage and have been feeding it Crickets. It eats four or five a day. My grandson wants to keep it. From what you said above, it will not survive the winter, even if kept inside?

    • Mike Bush said on September 23, 2015:

      In the wild,female praying mantids tend to be killed off by cold winter temperatures, or by providing all their resources to laying their egg masses. Alternatively, their may die of starvation as the cold winter temperatures will reduce the availability of their insect prey. Indoors, unmated mantids should survive much longer as long as you can find a source of food for them. Of course, pet stores may carry live insects. Regardless, the longevity of the mantis is only about one year in captivity.

  2. debby moggio said on September 29, 2015:

    I live at the beach, on the Long Beach (North beach) peninsula. I’ve only been here 10 years, but I had never seen praying mantises here before. Now they are all over the place, both green (female?) and brown. They are large. (about 3 to 3 1/2 inches) Are these native? Is this very dry year the reason for their appearance? Have I just been blind?

    Any answer much appreciated!

    • Gail Kohler said on September 24, 2018:

      Debby Moggio. Are you speaking of Long Beach Washington state? If so I am a life long Western Washington resident. I too had never seen any Mantids at all and being a life long, 58yrs, horse owner I have spent many long days in the wilderness. I also tried to keep a female and her eggs over the winter. Fed her crikets from pet store. She lived for about 4 months and her eggs never hatched. I live just south of Olympia in Rochester. Before moving her in 09′ I had never seen one in the wild. But since moving here I see a few every late summer to late fall. Before it freezes. I did not know we even had them here.

      • Larry Hewitt said on September 25, 2018:

        We just found one in our house. Caught it and took it back outside. First time ever seeing one

        • Chad said on October 16, 2018:

          Just found one Sunday. Live on the Key Peninsula across the water from Tacoma.
          First time seeing them here. that is why I found this post.

      • Laurel said on September 26, 2018:

        I am 60 and have lived north of Seattle and have never seen one !

  3. Mike Bush said on September 29, 2015:

    The most common praying mantis in Washington State is the European Mantis, Mantis religiosa. As the name suggests, this species is not native to the North America. It was accidently introduced at the turn of the 20th Century. It has done very well and is now widespread throughout most of the USA and Canada. The numbers of this species has been augmented by the sale of these beneficial predators through mail order. The numbers of this species will likely go through the predator-prey fluctuations, but I suspect that the mild winter we observed throughout the State may have led to an abundance of prey early in the year as the young mantises hatch from their egg. masses.

    • Charlie Priester said on October 31, 2015:

      I, too, had never seen one in our garden before but came home yesterday to one on our deck not quite expired, but close. I actually thought she was dead when I brought her inside and placed her on a paper towel — amazed by her beauty and exotic nature. Then, when I left the room and returned a short time later, she had raised herself up on those front legs — as if in prayer! — and I was stunned. It wasn’t long after that, she sunk back down.

  4. KIMBERLY CRANE said on June 14, 2016:

    Please be aware, Praying Mantises do eat hummingbirds. They will wait on hummingbird feeders until a hummingbird feeds on the nectar then bounce and kill the hummingbird.

    • Marian said on September 7, 2017:

      Um… That’s extremely rare. It’s not a common (or even occasional) threat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a native Praying Mantis large enough to even attempt tackling a small hummingbird, personally. Please do not destroy Mantids out of fear of this.

    • Russ Nichols said on October 11, 2017:

      I live in the central valley of California.
      We have an exceptional number of both mantis and hummingbirds.
      I have a few feeders out and most of the people I know do as well. I have NEVER seen anything attack a hummingbird.
      I have seen hummers attack anything too near their nests, mantis stay on the lower plants happily eating aphids and spiders.
      But hummers? Sounds like BS.

    • Gail Kohler said on September 24, 2018:

      Yes extremely rare indeed! The Mantis would have to be very desparete!

  5. David Regan said on November 1, 2016:

    Today is the first of November, and while at my neighbors I found a Praying Mantis! She’s a beaut I tell you. My buddy put her in a glass with some grass. I told him that’s nice, but they eat bugs. He never knew that. I’m going to tell him to let it go later on so she can lay her eggs if she hasn’t yet!

  6. Teri Rury said on August 17, 2017:

    We found a white praying mantis outside our door last night. I have never seen one here in Western Washington before. Are they native here?

    • Mike Bush said on August 18, 2017:

      Hi Teri,

      Praying mantids do have an ability to change their color to match their background which is why we see brown, green and even reddish- colored mantids. The whitish color may be a mantid that just shed its skin and is waiting for the new skin to harden and color-up. Mantids are most vulnerable to predation and injury during this period of their lives. Literature indicates that there is only one mantid native to WA State and it is relatively small and rarely encountered. The most abundant mantid species found in WA State today are intentionally introduced species that are considered beneficial predators of other insect species. Thank you for your interest!

    • Gail Kohler said on September 24, 2018:

      Finding a White one was most likely someone’s pet that was bought at a Pet Store at one point and probably either set free, bad idea, or it excaped. White Ones are not native to the Pacific Northwest. Unless it is a genetic mishap.

  7. Jennifer Atkins said on September 7, 2017:

    So crazy never saw one in Tacoma, WA until today, I have seen In Eastern WA several times. A family member says there are a ton by her house in Yelm, WA

    • Nicki said on September 10, 2017:

      I just found one in spanaway with only one leg on one side and one leg bent up by its head poor guy…im going to see how long i can keep it alive in a cardboard box i have…any tips on keeping them.

  8. Oliver William Rose said on September 7, 2017:

    I found a praying mantis outside my apartment door behind a flower. It appeared there on my birthday (Sept. 6)! I’m worried it will die with the cold temperature so I put it into a little terrarium and am attempting to feed it crickets. I live in Port Townsend.

  9. Susan said on September 13, 2017:

    We found one here on the South Beach near Westport. I’ve never seen one outside of an exhibit. It was very cool! Could the warm weather this year have contributed to them being in our area? Also do they eat yellow jackets?

    • Mike Bush said on September 14, 2017:

      Absolutely, mild winters are a blessing to the preying mantids that are not native to Washington State, including the most common green (European) Mantid found in our State.

  10. Genna said on September 13, 2017:

    I saw one about 4 inches long yesterday giving a smaller brown one a piggy-back ride, or mating? Then today I found another grass-green one while I was working outside – ON MY SHOULDER!!!

    • Genna said on September 13, 2017:

      Olympia

    • Mike Bush said on September 14, 2017:

      Since preying mantids are predators they will willingly feed on each other. So the behavior you saw was probably mating. This is a very risky endeavor for the smaller male who may become his mate’s postnuptial meal.

  11. Mike Bush said on September 14, 2017:

    Thank you all for your interest in the world of a preying mantids. I have a couple of preying mantids that I am hoping to keep alive for our regional fair here in Yakima to share with the kids at the Master Gardener booth. They are living off of a diet of dragonflies, grasshoppers and hobo spiders. I am pretty sure that they would willingly feed on yellowjackets and other bees and wasps. In fact, I had a beekeeper who was initially amused, but then got a bit upset with a preying mantid that camped out at the entrance of his beehive. The mantid was helping itself to a smorgasbord of honey bees.

    In the tropics, preying mantids have evolved to take on colors and shapes that allows them camouflage themselves among flowers and specialize on feeding on pollinators the visit these flowers- flies, bees and butterflies. I wouldn’t be surprised if once in a blue moon, they tackle a small hummingbird, but it would be rare!
    One warning about mantids though- they can bite humans, primarily in self-defense and the bite is not poisonous. So avoid handling these little predators . . . even if they are ON YOUR SHOULDER!!

  12. Kealy said on September 24, 2017:

    My daughter is studying praying mantids for science, as we homeschool….in one week, we found 4 in our yard, then today, we found a 5th one. They all have their own place to live, and we are feeding them crickets. Today, my kids found a 5th one and an egg case on our willow tree….then when they brought the 5th one in, they discovered one of the ones they had inside laid her eggs sometime since we fed them yesterday…crazy, as in the past, we may have seen 1 a year, and now we have 5 in 2 wks with eggs….I wonder if our warmer summers has brought them this way or the fires maybe drove them our direction….we live in Roy, wa

    • Mike Bush said on September 25, 2017:

      Dear Kealy,
      Congratulations on the life learning experience with preying mantids.

      I have no science behind my answer to your wondering. I suspect that this may be due to drier summers where the natural landscapes beyond our homes are drying out and the mantids are seeking better watered landscapes. Mild winters may be another factor in the increased abundance of preying mantids as well.

      • Mike Bush said on September 25, 2017:

        P.S. I just had a preying mantid lay her egg case Friday evening. To properly rear these eggs out, we will need to place those egg masses in a sheltered area outdoors over the winter to expose them to the necessary cold weather. We should leave this egg cases outside in the spring. Otherwise the eggs will hatch too early as they artificially warm up. Then the mantids will eat each other to survive if they do not have any other insects to feed on.

        • Russ Nichols said on October 11, 2017:

          You can refrigerate them.
          My local orchard supply hardware sells them out of a little refrigerator in garden.

  13. marianne said on October 3, 2017:

    I just saw my first mantis in Ravensdale, WA!

  14. Michael Bush said on October 11, 2017:

    Dear Russ,

    One of my mantras is “never say never.” I would say preying mantids preying on hummingbirds is rare, even unlikely, but not impossible. If you surf the internet, you will find videos of preying mantids feeding on and actually capturing hummingbirds. I can’t speak to the validity of these videos, but the hunting and behavior of preying mantids can’t rule this out can’t rule out that somewhere in the world this hasn’t happened. Thanks for the comment though, I did surf the internet before commenting on this.

    • Russ Nichols said on October 11, 2017:

      I once drove a car 80 miles on the metal plies after the rubber came off in a chunk.
      Anything can indeed happen, but it is highly unlikely.

  15. Jackie Hann said on October 11, 2017:

    I live in the Puyallup Valley. Just found my first egg case. Is there any way I can leave it outside and still protect it? Should I trust the location? Leave it up to Mother Nature?? It is attached to the outside of a large ceramic pot on the NE corner of my house but gets sun from the southern exposure. I am reluctant to try to remove it and bring it in. Any help appreciated.

    • Mike Bush said on October 12, 2017:

      Dear Jackie,

      In this case, my opinion is to let Mother Nature work her magic. I would not move the pot with the egg mass unless necessary. While there is no guarantee of survival, the odds are much higher that the eggs will hatch at the proper time to take advantage of the spring emergence of other insects that will serve as prey.

  16. Cheryl Stewart said on October 26, 2017:

    Saw my first Praying Mantid today. I’m in Shelton. Had no idea they were a native.

    • Mike Bush said on October 30, 2017:

      Hi Cheryl,

      Most species of praying mantids are not native to Washington, but are intentionally introduced to help with the gardening and keeping large insect pests in check.

  17. Ruth Hankins said on October 28, 2017:

    I have a mantis who came in with my jade plant, shed skin and it is October 28th and don’t know what to do with him or her. It’s about 3 inches long. What is the best thing to do?

    • Mike Bush said on October 30, 2017:

      Hi Ruth,

      Due to the size of your praying mantid, it is a ‘she’. Males only get to be about 2 to 2 1/2-inches long. Furthermore, your praying mantid has just become an adult and her remaining task in life is now to find a male and mate. The best thing to do is to wait until a warm (mid-50s) morning or early afternoon and release her back into the outdoors. That gives her time to find a warm secluded area to acclimate to the cool weather and find a mate. Second best thing is treat her like a pet and feed her a steady diet of live crickets purchased from a pet store.

  18. TINMANN66 said on November 12, 2017:

    I live in puyallup near Paul Bunyan rifle range where I just found a mantid on my front door.
    Not sure if it’s male or female but I would like to ensure it’s survival.
    The kids and I put it in a clear 20″x14″x6″ container
    With a lid. We’ve filled it with dirt, rocks, tree branches and wet leaves.
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks.

    • Mike Bush said on November 27, 2017:

      Dear Client,

      I too tried to rescue three preying mantids this year, one male and two females. The male was about half the size as the females. I tried to keep them alive with a steady diet of stink bugs, flies and some moisture in the form of simulated rain fall. The male died first and I do not know why. Both females laid egg masses before they died. At least one female continued to feed on whatever I put in her cage however her color started to change from green to brown within a couple days of egg-laying.
      It may be a natural thing for preying mantids to die at this time of year here in the PNW as the female mantids put so much energy into laying their eggs that they do not have enough resources left to live once they lay the egg mass. For now I would try to get a colony of crickets started in the cage. If you can keep the colony of crickets happy, the preying mantids will not starve as they normally would during the PNW winters.

  19. Zachary Elis said on May 15, 2018:

    I would like to know what they eat and how they eat to me l don’t understand and are so soft if you don’t look them careful touch them on power they die l need help

  20. Mike Bush said on May 30, 2018:

    Dear Client,

    Early in the spring when the mantids hatch from their egg mass (ootheca), they are very small and delicate. As they mature, they get larger and not-so-delicate. When the mantids hatch from the eggs, their first meal is often one of the other delicate mantids that hatch along side of them.

    Once they leave and disperse from the ootheca, they will hunt and prey on smaller flying and hopping insects. As they get bigger, they will turn their attention to larger and larger flying and jumping insects. Their primary hunting strategy is to freeze in position and wait for something to fly or land nearby. They may stalk their prey as well. The mantids will capture the prey with their front legs that are armed with spines. They then use their chewing mouthparts to consume their prey.

    By the end of the summer, only a few mantids that hatch from each egg mass will survive to adulthood.

  21. Carol said on September 2, 2018:

    On August 30th I sat outside on my deck next to a large sunflower that I planted. Crawling up onto the deck was a fairly good sized praying mantis that stood on the deck border and then jumped/flew onto the sunflower. I took 2 pictures of this. This praying mantis was tan colored only. Is this common for WA state?

  22. Mike Bush said on September 4, 2018:

    Thank you for your question, Carol!
    I did a quick search on the internet to find some research to support my observation that praying mantids can change their color to blend in with their environment. Found enough controversy on the topic that it was necessary to find some science to quote. So, here is a quote from Bulletin of Insectology 63 (1): 85-89, 2010 titled Colour change and habitat preferences in Mantis religiosa by R. Battiston & P. Fontana:

    “M. religiosa [most common species that I have encountered here in WA] can often be found in fields with two main different colorations: grass-green and brown shades from yellow-ochre to brown-sepia. Some studies exist on the colour change in M. religiosa, the ability of this insect to change its colour from green to brown or vice versa just after a moult. Older studies (James, 1944 and Ergene, 1952 in: Grassè, 1975) relate this change to the colour of the substrate where the moult occurs,whereas more recent ones (Jovancic, 1960; Grassè,1975; Lopez, 1998) relate it to humidity, air temperature and light intensity.”

    My interpretation- During the hot dry period of late summer, the abundance of brown- and tan-colored praying mantis is likely to become more common for WA State.

  23. Jessica said on September 5, 2018:

    Wow. This summer is the first time we have found praying mantis in our yard. Over the last few weeks I have seen five. They seem to like the large amount of grasshoppers on my farm in Buckley. Are they invasive? Should I be leaving them alone? I understand they are not native to the area.

    • Michael Bush said on September 17, 2018:

      Grasshoppers would certainly qualify as a meal for mantids. However, those mantids have been there in or near your yard all summer long. We tend to overlook the smaller and immature mantids. Adult mantids are not only larger, but have wings and use these wings to disperse. Almost all the mantids that we find in Washington state are exotic (non-native) species but they are not considered invasive. The mantids we are encountering are commercially available (you can mail order them) have been intentionally introduced to Washington by gardeners as biological control for garden pests. I recommend leaving the mantids you find alone. The primary factor that may be making them more abundant in recent years are the mild winter low temperatures that we have experience over the past few years. These mild winters will allow more mantids overwintering in egg masses survive until spring.

  24. Elle L. said on September 6, 2018:

    Saw two light tan colored ones on a gas pump at a gas station in Kelso, Washington today. One was quite a bit larger than the other.

    • Michael Bush said on September 17, 2018:

      Female mantids do tend to be much larger than male mantids. However the smaller male mantids are far better at flying and dispersing.

  25. Susan said on September 14, 2018:

    My husband saw his first one today, which he described as straw-colored 3″to 4″, in the tall grass in our pasture in the Dockton area on Vashon Island. He was thrilled to see it.

    Do they make any special noise?

    • Michael Bush said on September 17, 2018:

      As far as I know the preying mantid species that we find in Washington do not make any special noises. I hear that some mantid species can “hiss” by expelling air out of their abdomen through spiracles.

      Other than that mantids do “crunch” when stepped on, but that is not really a special noise!

  26. Brent Evans said on September 17, 2018:

    I live in the Renton Highlands and was surprised to find one in spider web next to my door. He’s a bit over 2″ long and must have just died because he wasn’t there yesterday. No idea what kind of spider got him though.

    It definitely looks like the Mantis religiosa images.

    Any idea what other species of Mantids we might be seeing? The phrase “most common mantids in the PNW” has me wondering what other mantids have been seen here? I’ve lived here since 1973 and never seen one here.

    • Michael Bush said on September 17, 2018:

      As best as I know there is only one species of mantid native to Washington and it is a small (one to 1.5 inch long) non-descript ground mantid, Litaneutria minor. I have only seen one of these mantids in my 25 years here in Washington state.

      All preying mantids I have sampled in Eastern Washington have been Mantis religiosa or the European mantis. I have heard that another mantid species, Tenodera sinensis, or the Chinese mantid may be found and this species is another mantid that can commercial purchased here in the USA.

  27. Kerry said on September 17, 2018:

    I have a couple mantids left in my garden. If female and bred, will they seek out a specific type of plant or tree to lay the ootheca on? Or should I carefully look through all of the tomato plants when we tear down the garden?
    Also, what month, typically, will they lay the egg cases? Ok considering bringing one inside and putting it in an old covered fish tank. We buy live bugs anyway for lizards, so figured I could feed this too.

    • Michael Bush said on September 17, 2018:

      Preying mantids are not very choosy about where they lay their egg masses. I have found them on wire fences, wooden fences, perennial plants, window screens, wooden stacks and even on the underside of rocks. Typically I find the ootheca in later half of August and early September here in eastern Washington.

      The only problem that I have encountered with ootheca laid or stored indoors is that the eggs hatch too early (before any other insect prey emerge) and the mantids turn to cannibalism to survive.

  28. Tony said on September 18, 2018:

    I saw my first one in the decades I’ve lived in the Puget Sound region.

    https://flic.kr/p/2a76wv1

  29. Todd hiatt said on September 18, 2018:

    Just found one in my yard in Auburn, never seen in the wild in my 48 years of life here. From what I have read here I will let her go on the caterpillar nest on my apple tree and wish her well. Thanks for the info

    • Crystal said on September 22, 2018:

      Just today in Auburn WA, September 21, 2018. One landed on my shoulder! I couldn’t believe iy. I have lived in this area my entire 37 years and have never seen one here, I did not even think we has them here in Western Washington! That’s crazy you saw one just two days before me in the same city.

  30. Tony said on September 24, 2018:

    Crazy, I found two more today in my yard and one of them I presume the female had a much smaller in it’s grasp. It then proceeded to eat the head and neck of it.

  31. Kay Hanvey said on September 25, 2018:

    I saw my first mantis in Western Washington today. I rescued her and her two buddies from the middle of the parking lot at Tractor Supply Company in Chehalis. i have enjoyed reading all of the posts here. There was not much doubt what the two were doing – and the third one would have liked to have been part of the action. it was interesting as the two that were mated were brown but the hopeful was bright green and yes, after moving them off the blacktop – i did take some pictures. I could not tell if they were injured or not. The green one wasn’t. We eventually convinced him that he really didn’t want to be another snack for the female and he ran off. The female still had enough legs free and moving that she was able to make a pretty good lunge too – so hopefully she and her beau are OK.

  32. Lorena Metcalf said on September 25, 2018:

    Hi I have never seen praying mantis in Tacoma Washington before this week but I have a large brown one and today I found 2 more smaller ones riding on it’s back a green one and a reddish brown one outside in my backyard!

  33. Greg Stilger said on October 8, 2018:

    I had a mantid on our front porch in Bonney Lake. When I came home from work the next day, it found its way into or house. Maybe it snuck in when I took the dog for a walk. I put it in the back yard on the rhododendron just outside of our house. First time I’ve seen one in this area. Cool insect!

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