Not actual mantids actually; they are all long dead and gone for the year. This picture was taken in August when the mantids were all super busy hunting in my flowers. But now that the trees are bare, I’m finding evidence that they lived well here. And I’m finding it everywhere!
That evidence is egg cases. Every time we go outside, we seem to find a new one. This one is on the plum tree, the same exact tree in the top photo.
I’m really unsure whether I have the California mantids (Stegmomantis californica) or the Carolina mantids (Stegmomantis carolina). My guess is Carolina, because they are really the more common mantids around here, unfortunately. Some of the egg cases, like the one above, look very Carolina. But some of them, like the one below, looks more like California.
This one is from the oak tree. A large branch came down in the wind, and when I was cleaning it up, I noticed the egg case. I decided to put it in my butterfly cage and leave it on the front porch over the winter; in spring I hope to catch lots of babies emerging.
The mantid egg cases or sacs are called ootheca. Soon after mating, in late summer or fall, the female mantis lays her eggs in a mass (sometimes dozens, often hundreds at a time in that mass) on a nearby branch. Then she secretes a foamy substance from her abdomen to cover it. Over time, this substance hardens into a styrofoam-like consistency, able to withstand predators and the elements. The female may produce just one egg case or several after mating just once. The ootheca protects the babies by keeping them insulated over the winter. In the spring, the nymphs hatch from the eggs while still in the case, then make their way out and immediately go in search of food.
The nymphs look like tiny little mantids - there are no stages of growth or instars. They just grow bigger!
As I’ve said before, the mantids are a non-selective predator, meaning they’ll eat anything they come across whether we consider it a good guy or pest. But balance in the garden depends on predators, and we can’t be picky about which ones show up. I welcome these mantids into the garden to eat up anything from flies to aphids to termites to bees. I’m actually hoping they will help me control the early yellow jacket queens as they emerge from their underground nests in the spring.