The other morning I got a call from a gardener who was having trouble with her rose bushes. “Something is eating them”, she said. “There are stink bugs on them and also some praying mantises. I wonder if either of them could be the culprits.” I assured her that the praying mantises would not be eating her rose leaves because they are insectivores and therefore do not eat plant material; but the stink bugs were another matter.
“Are the rose leaves being chewed or are they more stippled with little holes all over?” I asked.
“Oh”, she said. “They don’t really seem to be chewed; they just look somewhat spotty and distorted.”
Hmmm, that’s pretty classic stink bug damage. Stink bugs have piercing/sucking mouth parts and they feed by sucking the juices from leaves, stems and flower buds. Apparently they were all over her roses.
Then she asked me a question that I didn’t know the answer to; “If the praying mantises that are also on my rose bushes are insect eaters, will they eat the stink bugs?”
“Well now, I don’t know”, I said. “Stink bugs are pretty stinky and nasty creatures, I can’t imagine the mantids would eat them but I’m not really sure.”
Later that afternoon, I received an e-mail from a longtime listener to “In the Garden with Andre Viette” that had an attached photo of (drum roll please) a praying mantis chowing down on a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug!
Whoa, what an amazing shot and what a coincidence that he caught it on “film” and happened to e-mail it to us the day I got this question!
Thanks to Nicholas R. of Copper Hill Images for these incredible photos! And thanks for clearing up the mystery of whether they eat stink bugs.
So it seems that praying mantises do find these nasty bugs rather palatable!
More power to them!
I don’t think I am alone when I say that I’m not looking forward to the time when hordes of these vile insects begin to invade our homes in search of a warm, cozy place to spend the winter. Based on the numbers I saw in our vegetable garden this summer, it’s going to be bad!
Many of our vegetables, including tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cucumbers, had visible damage from the sucking mouthparts of stink bugs.
We haven’t sprayed pesticides in our garden for years but after the devastation we suffered to our bean crop from Mexican bean beetles and the damage to other vegetables from the stink bugs, I think we are going to have to do some spraying next season.
Crop rotation is one of the best ways to reduce insect and disease problems in the vegetable garden and we do practice this each year but apparently it wasn’t enough this season. We had very little disease, though. I think this was due in part to the crop rotation but also to the cover of straw mulch which kept soil from splashing up onto the stems and leaves of the vegetable plants.
Anyway, back to the praying mantis! When I work in my “natural” garden in the fall, I often come across praying mantis egg cases. These are puffy, tan masses that are attached to the stems of various plants. I often see them on goldenrod and on my ornamental grasses. If you find them, leave them in the garden! The nymphs will hatch out in the spring and immediately go to work noshing on all kinds of insects. They are very efficient and ferocious predators – especially after they grow up! Some people will even cut branches or stems that have praying mantis egg cases attached to them and tie them to plants in their gardens with the hope that when they hatch they’ll stick around to prey on insect pests in their landscape. Unfortunately the praying mantis isn’t especially discriminating of its prey and will devour non-pest insects just as quickly as it will a pest species.
Oh well – if they eat their share of stink bugs, that’s alright with me!
Until next time – Happy Gardening!
More photos from Nicholas of Copper Hill Images and check out the beautiful photo galleries on his website.