Friday, January 1, 2010

Predator becomes the Prey

Chinese Praying Mantids are one of the most recognized of all the summer insects. Being very large at almost 5 inches in length, they are impossible to mistake for any other species of mantid in Missouri. I compare them to the famed dinosaur isn't a far stretch if you think about it. The way they hold their legs out in front of them in that prayer-like fashion is very reminiscent of the famed dinosaur. They are large meat eaters, just like T-Rex. They are stealthy and very little gets past them. These are fun insects to keep as pets, being easy to rear and requiring very little in the way of care makes them a sure fit to anyone who is fascinated with insects. Sometimes though the predator becomes the prey, in the case of this unfortunate egg case (ootheca) discovered by an enterprising downy woodpecker. This little woodpecker hammered away completely unaware of my presence for several minutes.


I wish my pictures were a bit more clear, but I am still fortunate to have came across such a fascinating find as this. Little bits and pieces of this ootheca were flying like saw dust from a chainsaw as he worked fastidiously  at getting to those eggs hidden away inside that case.  He hung around for 3 minutes or so, just long enough for me to get the right lens on the camera and snap off a few pictures. This is natural pest control at its finest. Even though praying mantids are great at insect control, this particular variety have all but pushed out our native species. So if a few are sacrificed to a hungry winter bird, I say "more power to you little bird".

Pictured to the right is an image of a Chinese Mantid Egg Case (ootheca). If you would like to find one, now is a good time when the leaves are off the trees and shrubs. They are all but impossible to find when the foliage is present. Last spring I had well over 20 of these cases in my yard. This year I only have found around a half dozen or so. Below is one of the big eyed beauties that showed up in our gardens this past season. I am curious to see what this extremely harsh winter weather we are experiencing this year will do to the insect populations.


  1. Fascinating! And that last photo is creepy. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for those cases on my woodland walks :)

  2. They truly are aren't they Meredith. I love praying mantids. They are so large and commanding in their appearance. The egg cases will be found in understory of the woods on low growing shrubs and bushes. They also favor the areas near the timberland and the cases will often be found there. Good luck and happy hunting. Once you locate one, you will be amazed at how fast you will find more.