Do you have a kid who loves bugs and insects? This is an exciting STEM science project for kids! Encourage your budding entomologist with this easy and fascinating idea. Hatching praying mantes are also wonderful for natural pest control too!
You see, it started with our mom, who is an avid gardener. Actually, avid is an understatement. She’s a plant whisperer. The only bane of her greenthumbery is the dreaded garden pests.
Well, that, and when we used to have food fights using her lovingly cultivated vegetables (so sorry mom!)
We recently discovered (yes, as adults – a term we use loosely) that we can hatch some voracious garden pest hunters: praying mantis! So, it’s become an annual tradition to release them into mom’s garden.
Alright, and praying mantes are COOL.
What do you need?
- Egg case: we recommend buying at least two, as sometimes one can be a dud – nature isn’t guaranteed after all. More details on how to locate suppliers under the heading “Getting an Egg Case.”
- Misting bottle: filled with unchlorinated or rainwater (or leave tap water for three days uncovered before putting it in the sprayer to allow the chlorine to evaporate). Be sure to use a new bottle or one that hasn’t been used for chemicals or soap before.
- Container with Netting: We’ve used one similar to this; it can be stored flat and used for many other bugs. And for parents…it seals well and has a very fine mesh, so no unwanted escapees! We’ve used various containers (like a giant mason jar, bug jar, and mesh critter cage), cut fine netting (even nylons), and secured the mesh over the opening with a rubber band. Just don’t use a ziplock bag! They need to breathe!
- Sewing pin or similar
- Sticks and leaves gathered from the yard
Obtaining Egg Cases
Since we’re not sure where you’re from, dear reader, it may take a few moments to locate the mantis species appropriate for your area. It’s so important not to introduce unwanted or invasive species!
When first researching, we looked up ‘natural pest control for (Ontario)’ and what species of praying mantis were native to Ontario for comparison. After contacting a few companies, we found one with an entomologist who responded to inquiries. Their website states: “All of the ‘Good Bugs’ we offer are either native to North America or have been approved and permitted by Agriculture Canada for Natural Insect Controls.” They can confirm which species you should get for your area.
If you are interested, you can check with them at http://www.naturalinsectcontrol.com. We do not receive any commissions for this. We want to spread enthusiasm and encourage non-chemical pest control! They also have a mantis egg case and egg chamber combination.
In this day and age of the internet, do a little digging. It’s worth it!
when to order
Again, this depends on where you live and on your supplier. You can ask the supplier when they usually ship and if you can pre-order.
You can order the egg cases, store them somewhere cool and dark (again, in a container with air), and then bring them out to warm up, expecting them to hatch between 2-8 weeks.
If you live somewhere cold in the winter, be sure it’s warm enough for them to be released outside and at a time when there will be tiny insects for them to eat.
For example: if your spring season warms up in mid-April, order around the end of March (or bring them out of the cool storage then). A late release, as long as it’s before July, to allow them to lay eggs for the next season, is better than too soon so they don’t turn into mantisicles.
How to – easier than house plants
- Attach the egg case to a twig (pinning it is easiest), and be sure it’s hung at least 5 cm above the floor of the container.
- Hang the part that looks like a seam (like ribs) outwards and slightly down if possible. That’s where they emerge. See the photo above for what this looks like
- If using a container from home, cut some fine mesh and secure it over the opening with an elastic band.
- Keep them out of direct sunlight.
- Put in a warm area of the house, with temperatures of around 22-34o C /70-90o F
- It’s important to mist daily with water (lightly, like misted rain) so it doesn’t dry out.
- Check the case every day.
In about 2-8 weeks, you will see them squirm out of their egg case. Once they start hatching, it only takes a couple of hours for them all to emerge. It’s pretty cool to watch!
In colder climates, hatching your case by mid-July is important to allow them enough time to grow up, mate and lay more egg cases for the next season.
Praying Mantis are amazing pest eaters. They have a big appetite…which can backfire if you don’t release them soon after hatching…they’ll start eating each other :/
It’s pretty fun to release them one by one in the garden – even after a couple of years. We still get excited to see them hatch!
You can keep them as pets if you provide them with food regularly. And be sure to keep them in separate containers, or they will eat each other!
Please see the video below for a cool preview of what’s in store. We showed some kids, and the avid expressions of amazement were truly wonderful to see.
The Big Sis