by Christine Maccabee

The first time I witnessed a large butterfly in the clutches of a “preying” mantis I was shocked. Within a couple minutes, the mantis had eaten the entire body of the helpless butterfly, its wings drifting silently to the ground. Silence and stealth are the trademarks of a predator. So much is happening in secret in the insect world, we could all call our gardens the “Secret Garden.’’ Earlier that same summer, back in the ‘90s, I had discovered many pairs of butterfly wings under various flowering plants, attributing them to natural deaths. However, after seeing this one instance of predatory behavior of that mantis , and reading up a bit about it, I knew better. In fact, I knew the war was on as I watched a mantis consuming a honey bee! Of all things!

So began my mission to capture every mantis I could find on my morning and evening “mantes (pl.)patrols,” grasping them with a gloved hand, putting them in a convenient container with a lid, and feeding them to my chickens—a bit of extra protein for my good birds. When fall and winter came, I went around the gardens where I would find mantis egg cases, cutting them in half with pruning clips or putting them underfoot. Each egg case of the mantis holds at least 100 babies, so I was able to control population by this simple method.

Thus, I had become the predator of the “preying” mantis. Mantis have few, if any, predators due to their sharp forelegs and fierce appearance, but they don’t scare me!

By the way, praying mantis are not praying, trust me. They are simply protecting themselves, or waiting to pounce in a flash on unsuspecting prey. That is why I refuse to refer to them by their official praying mantis name, instead always calling them “preying” mantis instead, in case you were wondering.

Now, I realize that many people love preying mantis. But why have a garden with flowers as a magnet for butterflies and bees only to have it become a death trap? Since the 1990s, when I first discovered my problem, I have clearly made a difference in the population of mantes in my gardens. However, now and then I see one, and …well, you know what I do. Even without chickens now, I dispose of them by other means. One can get fairly creative when it comes to predation.

This year, I ran into another problem having to do with other predators. I know there is a fine line between predation and survival, so I do understand when monarch caterpillars begin disappearing from my milkweed. However, this year I noticed an overabundance of predatory hornets and wasps.

Doing a little research, I learned that many of these insects do suck nectar and eat rotting fruit, so they serve a purpose when it comes to pollination and cleanup services. However, many of them are carnivorous as well, especially when it comes to their young. They will find a caterpillar or other soft-bodied insect and pre-chew it as food for their larva back in their nest.

So, of course, I brought as many monarch larva as I could find, along with their host plant, milkweed, into my house. As we speak, my second chrysalis is soon to open into a full-fledged adult, and there are two larva feeding safely on milkweed, soon to transform into their chrysalis. The ones that I cannot save are out there, on their own, such is the nature of life.

There are many other predators in our wildlife habitat jungles, too numerable to write about here.* I often contemplate about the difference between wild and supposedly civilized human predators, and must say, there is a huge difference. As we read and hear in the news, humans prey on other humans, whereas most insects and animals usually do not, seeking other species as their necessary food. Their actions are not mercenary or ego-driven; they hunt for their survival. As for human predation, that is a sad situation we are all concerned about, and the answer to that mystery is yet to be solved, if ever.

Keep the balance; do your part. That’s all we can do.

*Some common predators: assasin bugs, tiger beetles, ant lions, wheel bugs.

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