Randy Mitchell Special Correspondent
This week I’m featuring two insects which will be out and about for the next month or so — the Carolina mantis and the northern walkingstick. Both are seen more often from August through October, mostly because they are fully grown by this time.
I would guess 99 out of 100 people would call the Carolina mantis a praying mantis, to which it is very similar. There are many different species of mantises around the world. A mantis doesn’t really pray, it gets its name from the way it holds its forelegs, folded and together as if in prayer, which the Carolina mantis also does.
The best way to tell a Carolina mantis from a praying mantis is the length of the wings. On Carolina mantises, especially with females, the wings are shorter. The wings of the praying mantis often extend slightly beyond the end of the body. The Carolina mantis grows to about two-and-a-half inches in total length. Notice in the photo, which I took just days ago, the wings of this female Carolina mantis are short, compared to the rest of her body. Carolina mantises can be brown, green, or greenish brown in color.
Carolina mantises are very beneficial as they eat many insects humans consider pests. On the menu are aphids, ticks, beetles, wasps, moths, flies, bees, caterpillars and spiders, although spiders are beneficial as well.
In fact, many gardeners actually purchase Carolina mantises oothacae (egg clutch) from garden supply centers or online so the young will hatch and hang around the garden to eat pests.
Once the young hatch, they are voracious eaters and will eat what ever they can overtake, including other mantises. Only the strong survive.
Mantises are super predators. Once their unfortunate prey gets too close, they strike with lightning speed, often before victims can even flinch. I witnessed this behavior many years ago when a Carolina mantis captured and devoured a katydid. It was so fast I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me for a second. I’m not sure if the katydid ever saw the mantis at all.
Mantises prefer woodlands and overgrown meadows, but most of us see them when they’re crawling around the exterior of our homes. I’ve always had a fascination with mantises. With triangular heads and bulging eyes, mantises look like little space aliens.
The northern walkingstick has maybe the best camouflage of all insects in the United States. It looks like a small twig and most people rarely see them, unless they land on something man made, like in the photo below which I took when this northern walkingstick landed on the side of my house. Northern walkingsticks are woodland creatures and eat the leaves of deciduous trees, especially oaks.
When holding a walkingstick, one should be gentle and unafraid as they are harmless. The northern walkingstick will grow to between three and four inches — females are larger than males. The lesser seen giant walkingstick will grow to nearly six inches.