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This Week’s Creature Feature: Maryland Praying Mantises

Their prayerful attitude is deceptive, for all three species are cannibals
      Three species of praying mantis live in Maryland: the Chinese, the European and the Carolina. As you can tell by the names, two are introduced species and one is native. All have a similar life cycle but differ a little in their preferred habitats.
      The Chinese, a large blue-green species, is more common in urban areas in and around gardens. The European, common all over the state, grows to large adulthood and, with a brighter green abdomen below dull brownish green, are easily seen, even in the green foliage they prefer. The smaller all-brown Carolina mantis tends to live around branches and twigs that match its color. They are hard to see but are pretty common.  
      The adults of all three species can fly.
      All are ambush predators that will eat anything they can catch, including vertebrates like lizards and snakes. They are helpful with eating pests like beetles but also eat butterflies, bees and spiders. 
       Mantises hatch in the late spring from a hardened egg case, an ootheca, which can hold around 40 eggs. The newly hatched insects, about three-eighths of an inch long, look like miniature adults and grow quickly. By September, the female Chinese and European species are over three inches long, and the Carolina Mantis around two and a half. 
      Sexual cannibalism occurs in all the Maryland species; frequently the males end up being the female’s last meal before she lays her eggs. After she lays several egg cases she will die, and the next generation of predators will wait to hatch next spring.  
       To protect praying mantises in your yard, avoid indiscriminate spraying of insecticide and watch for the small hatchlings when you mow. Also, save the egg cases you might find while fall pruning by putting them in a dense shrub.