In Defense of Mantises

In April, the Environmental Studies Program at Lake Forest College was given a gift of four praying mantis egg sacs by Nada Finn of Green Town Waukegan. The mantis nymphs hatched on May 18, 2011, the same day that garden intern Xander Agosta ‘12 had his 21st birthday. Having pet praying mantises has been an unexpected joy for the Garden Crew of 2011. The lesson, in brief, is that when someone offers you praying mantis egg sacs (oothecae) to care for, just say yes.

When most people contemplate adopting a pet, their usual thought process runs along the lines of household convention. They trek to a pet store and peruse the shelves for something that complements them: a new Labrador for the budding family, a black cat for the recent widow, or a Beta fish for the chronic workaholic. Occasionally, a little tyke might pause in awe of a tarantula—but as far as pets go, people usually won’t think twice about invertebrates.

Invertebrates are some of the most diverse creatures on earth. Ants can lift many times their own weight, the tiger beetle can run as fast as 5.6 miles per hour (the equivalent of a human running 460 mph), and monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles to overwinter in a place they’ve never been. While it’s possible to have any one of these as a pet, here in the E.S. department we have stumbled across an awesome and personable ‘bug’ – the praying mantis.

The 2011 Lake Forest College Garden Crew (Garden Manager Liz Birnbaum ’08 and Interns Xander Agosta ’12, Jade Perkins ’14, Claire Perrott ’12, and Ryan Vlaar ’14) came together around caring for these seemingly odd pets. The initial reason to have mantises as pets was simple. Mantises are great companions for gardeners because they eat the very insects that would turn your best leafy greens into mesh.

Something changed for the Garden Crew when we started interacting with these fascinating creatures: we all banded together around the idea of caring for the mantis nymphs as our first garden project in May. We all did research into what they would eat, when and how to release them, and other special needs mantises as pets would need. We shared stories of the mantises with friends and growin’ at rowan blog readers, alike. In short, we evangelized for mantises as pets.

Below is Cleopatra, our pet mantis whom we adore.


This story was co-written with two garden interns, Ryan Vlaar and Claire Perrott. To read the full story, click here.

All photos in this post are by elizabeth birnbaum and are subject to creative commons licensing.

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