It's getting pretty warm these days. When the average temperature is 80 degrees or above, it's time for my favorite insect- THE PRAYING MANTIS, also known as MANTIS RELIGIOSA.
Every year I do a fun science experiment involving my garden, organic pest control, and the fascinating Praying Mantis. If you have kids, they will love it, believe me, AND they will learn something. I will walk you through it one step at a time.
First of all, I will attempt to keep you informed with frequent videos outlining all the things you need to do to successfully raise Praying Mantids. As far as I know this is the ONLY place in cyberspace where step by step instruction is available on video for raising Praying Mantids.
There are two ways to do it: in the wild and in captivity. I like to do both. Here's how it works. I let the Praying Mantis eggs hatch in my garage and let most of them go in the garden (where they provide excellent pest control) but I also keep a few in a bug jar to raise in captivity. To get them to hatch in the garage, simply leave the egg sack in its cardboard container. Check it carefully everyday. Don't miss a day! They might all be born and die before they get out. So, it's important to check everyday. Also, keep in mind that when they hatch, there will be 100's of them coming out of each egg sack and they are quite fast! They will jump out the moment you open the container so be careful! Also, do this outside. Invariably, a handful will get away. Best to let them go outside where they have a chance.
If you're not intending to raise some praying mantids in captivity, then you should let the eggs hatch outdoors. Affix them to the lower branch of a bush or shrub in the backyard. You can do this with the aid of a piece of thread or dental floss, or maybe a small piece of plastic netting. The baby mantids will be born when the average outdoor temperature is over 80 degrees. The nymphs (that's what the babies are called) will hatch and hang from the egg case on tiny threads that resemble spider webs. They hang for a while until they dry off. Then they march off to eat other bugs. The best kind of bush to use is a rose bush because roses often have aphids and the baby mantids love aphids. By hanging the oothea from a rose bush, the babies will have a ready source of food as soon as they're ready to eat.
Step one- go to your local nursery or hardware store or garden center and ask about organic pest control. They will probably have a small refrigerator full of Lady Bugs and Praying Mantis Eggs (called oothea.) They keep them in a refrigerator so they won't warm up and hatch ahead of time. Buy a few oothea. There are usually three kinds of mantids available commercially: the Giant Chinese Praying Mantis, the Carolina Mantis and the European Mantis. There's no way of knowing which kind you're going to get in a container, but the larger oothea are usually the Giant Chinese variety. Bring the egg sacks home and decide which way you want to go with them (wild or captivity). There's no reason you can't go both ways, I do. Hang one of the oothea from a low branch of a bush. Check it everyday. If you decide to hatch some in captivity, leave one container in the garage and check it everyday. One day, when you peak inside, you'll see hundreds of baby Praying mantids crawling all over each other. Shake a few into a plastic bug jar, no more than half a dozen in each bug jar. Leave them alone for a day or two. Soon they will get hungry and start eating (usually a sibling) and it will be time to furnish food. I'll give you the lowdown on feeding them in the next installment.
I bought my oothea a few days ago at Navlets, but they are available all over at this time. In the wild, the eggs usually hatch in June, but in California it could be any time after the danger of frost is past.