Battling Garden Pests with Praying Mantids

Half-eaten basil
Pobrecito basil 🙁

My garden has been getting eaten by nasty earwigs almost as soon as I set anything leafy into the ground. My first basil plant lost all its leaves and every plant has earwig damage (I pinched off all the damaged leaves after they looked more like skeletons instead of leaves). I set about looking for a way to combat them without adding any harsh chemicals to my garden.

Pinterest has a slew of ideas but the one that kept coming up was beer traps. Basically, you set a shallow dish (like an empty tuna can) in the dirt so that it is level with the surrounding ground and then you pour some beer in. The earwigs (and other nefarious garden-dwellers) come into the newest pub in town for a refreshing drink aaaand they drown. It worked! It worked for all the dummies but it meant I had to have beer on hand and (gasp!) we don’t really drink beer at home. It made me feel all sorts of weird to grab a “tall boy” with my weekly groceries and I also got lazy about cleaning out the dishes and refilling them every night.

Drowning earwigsAt one point, however, I was so adamant about ridding my poor plants of these pesky invaders that I actually when out with a cup with a little leftover white wine and a stick and knocked them off my tomatillo and basil plants into the cup one by one. To the right is from my first outing. I went out a couple of times a night for a few days in a row until I couldn’t find any and then I became complacent again.

That’s when I decided to hatch my own minions. Most people know that having lady bugs in your garden is great against aphids and other soft-bodied little insects that like to harm your plants. Praying mantids can do the same, but seeing as how they get to be about 2-3″ long, they can eat much larger prey. I hadn’t seen any praying mantids in my garden so I knew I had to bring them in myself. I went the Amazon route and ordered a couple of oothecae which can hatch 50-200 chinese praying mantis nymphs each. This is what they looked like when they arrived:

Praying Mantis Oothecae
They start out kind of as a foam. Once dry, they harden to look like pork rinds. They’re really light.

They gave me two options for taking care of them. One was to attach it to a plant outside a couple of inches from the base. The other was to put one in a paper bag and set it by a sunny window. With two, I did one of each because they say that you may never even notice that it hatched out in your garden since they guys are so stealthy and might spread out so far.

After making sure to open the window every morning to make sure that the little dudes in the paper bag were getting their daily dose of sunshine, they hatched three weeks later! Thankfully it was on a Saturday (this past one) and we were home because I neglected to put any food in the bag for them. Had it been a work day, I might have come home to half a brood after they went and ate each other out of hunger. It was so exciting to hear the bag popping from the little guys jumping around inside, I had to wake up Juan like it was Christmas morning to take our little guys and sprinkle them in our garden! Check them out!

Here’s one sitting on my thumb.
The praying mantis ootheca at the bottom of a paper bag as little nymphs are trying to make their way out.
Look at how pretty he is!
She’s not too shabby herself!
Look at those beautiful earwig-eating mandibles!
Not one to be left out, this little ladybug decided to make an appearance.

I hope that with their arrival, my garden pests are shaking in their boots! I’ll update if I notice a decrease in damage on my plants.

Do you have any cool bugs in your garden? Do tell!

Note: Photos were taken with an iPhone 4S and a magnetic macro lens attachment.