Sow ’em and Reap: The World of Mantids | Food and cooking

Anita Allen special for the Roanoke Times

While doing a winter pruning today I noticed something that always gets the “oh my god what is that!” people’s reaction. It is a small wad of what looks like sea moss stuck to a small twig or piece of grass at the bottom of bushes, low branches or grasses. This is an egg carton for praying mantises.

There are at least 17 types of praying mantises – 21 by some counts, in North America. The smallest and most delicate native variety is the Carolina praying mantis (Stagmomantis carolina), while the larger and more robust Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) is the most common. There are several other imports, including Australian and European.

Non-native species are usually several inches larger and eat indiscriminately. Chinese mantises, the largest of those found here (up to 5 inches) have been documented capturing and eating hummingbirds, small reptiles and amphibians. They will also eat bees, butterflies and other mantids, of course. A big plus, however, is that unlike most natives, they recognize these nasty, invasive brown marmorated stink bugs as prey and readily eat gnarled things.

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Chinese mantises are also the most sold type, for pest control.

If native protection is one of your goals, always check which species you are ordering or collecting. Chinese mantids are voracious and best suited to grasshopper or cricket infestations. Neither aphids nor weevils.

For the home gardener, I recommend collecting native egg crates, which look like tiny, straight strips of meerschaum stuck to a branch or grass. The Chinese mantis egg carton looks like a wad of meerschaum about 1 inch with a rounded end.

Gather them now and tie them to your rose bushes, or store them in the fridge until you can tie them to a tomato plant in the garden.

Many sites now recommend destroying Chinese and European egg cases, but European praying mantises have been tricked into doing a job – controlling gypsy moths – and Chinese praying mantises are useful in the correct setting, such as vines and trees. cereal fields. Therefore, I believe that breeding the natives should be the goal of all home gardeners, while commercial growers use the non-natives. This gives the natives a chance to compete.

If you can, ship non-native egg crates to friends in areas that need them, or to friends with insectivorous animals (eg chickens), for a win/win situation. Natives should always have priority, in my humble opinion.

To say praying mantises are smart is an understatement. Although I don’t know of any intelligence tests performed on them, I have repeatedly witnessed learned behavior and interspecific cooperation.

Many years ago a naturalist friend taught me a trick with praying mantises. She would put a drop of water between her index and middle finger and angle them so that the drop would roll down to her fingertips, then hand it to a mantis. In hot weather, if one stands perfectly still, a mantis grabs both fingers, lowers its mouth to the drop and drinks it.

At the time, my friend told me this trick, I had met a mantid by the pool at work. She was still in the arborvitae there. I waved 2 fingers at her, like mantis claws, in greeting as I worked. When she waved at me, I held out my hand. Soon she started climbing on my hand and I was letting her climb on top of me while I was weeding or watering things. I called her Fiona.

Over time, Fiona started gesturing towards things with a claw, and I would raise my hand and move it to the new location. Most of the time, it was at the same place where I had picked it up. She had two siblings, Flora and Fauna, in neighboring arborvitae. They never learned the trick of the wave, but would sometimes come up for a ride and fly away when they saw a place to explore.

That summer we had a drought, so my friend suggested giving them some water. I tried it with Fiona and she grabbed it easily and drank several drops. The strength of a mantid’s grip is quite surprising. When I tried to feed Flora and Faune, I learned that Fiona was very sweet. I’m surprised those two didn’t open my fingers. So if you want to try this, be prepared; you’ll want to jerk off unless it’s a nice mantid. And I don’t recommend letting kids do that.

In the meantime, for fun, here’s a delicious meerschaum candy recipe. Enjoy.

1 cup unsulphured molasses

Line a 9 inch by 9 inch pan with parchment paper. Grease with butter and set aside.

In a medium saucepan with a thick bottom and high sides (if possible), combine the molasses, turbinado sugar and vinegar over medium heat. Stir frequently, bring the mixture to a boil.

Once the mixture boils, attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure the tip of the thermometer is in the boiling liquid, not touching the bottom of the pan.

Continue to cook over medium heat without stirring the candies until your candy thermometer reads 300°F.

Remove the pan from the heat and gently stir in the baking soda until combined. The mixture will bubble creating the bubbles and texture of the candy. Do not stir too much, as this will deflate the bubbles.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan as evenly as possible. Tilt the pan around to help the candy spread. Do not tap the pan or use a spatula to spread it as this will deflate the bubbles. An uneven surface is fine.

Allow the meerschaum to cool in the pan for at least an hour.

Remove the candies from the mold using the parchment paper to scoop them out. Then break the candy into pieces using a mallet or a knife. It will shatter like peanut or almond shell.

Store in an airtight container or bag for up to 2 weeks.

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