Photo by Luc Viator.

Photo by Luc Viator.

Several praying mantis appeared in my wildish front yard garden late this summer. Before their arrival, my image of the insect was aligned with Pixar’s anthropomorphized Manny, the slightly off-kilter magician in A Bug’s Life. For a couple of weeks, I observed what were most likely males, doing very little except hanging around on my African boxwood hedge. And then one day, while working in my garden, I heard a loud buzzing sound originating near my peach tree. A praying mantis was holding a live wasp in its grasp. It was crazy cool, and I called out to the young neighbor kid across the street saying, “Hurry, you have to see this. A praying mantis has caught a wasp.”

My own children are under the soporific spell of their teenage years and are not at all interested in the life-and-death insect battles raging outside their front and back doors. But, I knew the 10 year old boy across the street would share my enthusiasm for this dramatic garden theater. The wasp was frantically buzzing and gyrating in an effort to free itself from the predator’s raptorial forelegs. It seemed impossible that those tiny appendages could be holding tight to a stinging wasp.

Praying mantis are ambush predators that wait stealthily for their next meal to fly by, or crawl near enough to be attacked and eaten alive. Most likely the bugs in my garden were Chinese mantis, escapees from a neighbor’s online purchase of beneficial insects. Beneficial insects are used in Integrated Pest Management, a process based approach to solving pest problems by creating environmental conditions that are unfavorable to pests. Reading about the lifecycle of beneficial insects is not for the faint hearted, or for those upset by the disquieting ruthlessness of nature.

The female aphid predator, a so-called beneficial insect, lays eggs among aphid colonies. When the eggs become larvae, they inject a toxin into adult aphids, which then paralyzes the aphids. The larvae suck out the aphid’s body contents through a hole they bite into the aphid’s thorax. A female praying mantis might decapitate the head of its male mate, before, during, or after copulation.

The mantis are gone from my garden, or in hiding. However, I am hoping they left an egg case so that next summer a new generation of these murderous insects will play out their small dramas in my garden. Especially because this summer the neighbor kid didn’t come soon enough, and my Manny let the wasp get away.

Check out the video called “Guy kills a zombie praying mantis, revealing a huge parasite living inside” (but be forewarned, it is a gruesome death for both creatures):

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