Nature Alert: Riderwood’s “little warriors”

By Anne Blackburn
Riderwood Sustainability Committee Member

In the June 2017 issue of the Riderwood Reporter, Grounds Supervisor Jack Vargo, told us that Valley Crest, our landscapers, have donated several hundred praying mantises and ladybugs to support Riderwood’s efforts to use fewer toxic chemicals to control insect pests.

As Jack reminded us, each tiny ladybug consumes 50 aphids a day and eats fruit flies and mites. Praying mantises eat insects, mice, and even snakes. These “little warriors,” as Jack called them, are fascinating creatures.

Most ladybugs living in North America are red or orange with black dots. These bright colors warn predators that they will taste bad. If they are threatened, they secrete a foul-tasting fluid from the joints in their legs. Ladybugs smell with their feet and antennae. Their wings beat 85 times a second when they fly. As winter approaches, ladybugs find warm, safe places to live. There they mate and hibernate after the females lay 100-400 eggs.

Praying mantises are six inches long and often colored green or brown as camouflage. Their name comes from the way their bent front legs are held in a prayerful manner. Their heart-shaped heads can swivel a full 180 degrees. They have only one ear located on their bellies. When their bulging eyes spot “dinner,” they capture it with lightning speed, then hold their prey in their serrated legs while  consuming it. Their most unusual characteristic is that female mantises may eat the legs and/or head of the male while the two are mating. Thankfully this behavior hasn’t spread to too many other species.

 

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