Warm weather causes spike in insect's population
Not so very long ago, it was rare to find praying mantises in the Greater Sudbury area.
But with the warmer winters we've been having in recent years, the insect seems to be moving northwards, according to Dan Chaput, a staff scientist at Science North who specializes in insects and plants.
“Just this week, we caught two here at Science North on this property,” he said.
“It's becoming a very, very common thing in the region. A number of years ago it was a rarity. We figured they were blown in occasionally. What seems to be happening now is their egg cases are surviving our winters. I attribute this to milder winters, ergo global warming.”
Not that they've moved that far. Chaput said praying mantises have been common in the French River and Parry Sound areas for years.
Northern Life decided to look into the issue after a Val Caron resident sent in a photo of a praying mantis taken in the community.
Chaput isn't surprised by that — more people have told him about finding the insect in the region this year than ever before.
Like all insects, praying mantises have six legs and three body parts, he said.
Their head can rotate almost 180 degrees, and has two large eyes on either side of their head, and another eye on top of their head, in between their antennae.
“What they usually do is they'll have their four back legs holding their body up, and their two front legs are held together sort of in a praying fashion,” Chaput said.
“The two front legs have very large spines on them in this sort of scissor-like way that they hold them.
When they see something come close enough, they lunge out with their legs, they grab it, kind of impale it on their spikes, and the mantis eats it.”
Praying mantises are “exclusively predatory,” mostly eating other insects, he said, meaning people don't have to worry about them ravaging their gardens.
When it gets too cold out, the insects freeze to death, but not before mating and laying eggs in a weather-resistant cocoon.
Praying mantises are actually an introduced species, originating in Europe and China, he said. So far, the only ones he's ever seen are European mantises.
“Usually what happens with invasive species is something bad is going to happen,” Chaput said. “They overpopulate or this and that. I haven't really heard a lot of negative effects of the praying mantis.”
The insects are actually quite “cool to look at,” he said. “Mantises are fascinating to watch,” Chaput said. “I know a lot of people who keep them as pets.”
For those interested in getting a look at a praying mantis, Science North currently has one on display. Chaput said the insect will be released into the wild later this fall in the hopes that it will be able to mate before its life cycle ends.