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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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34 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!

  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.

  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!

  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.

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