Last week, a praying mantis made headlines after being discovered in the Washington National’s outfield during a game against the New York Mets. My sister, knowing my fondness for mantid-kind, alerted me to the story and assured me that the mantis was caught with a baseball glove, wrapped in a towel and carefully escorted from the field to be released elsewhere. A luxury that a mantis in close proximity to my sister may not have been afforded.
The news sparked quite a few discussions with friends regarding whether or not the insect is endangered and/or protected and if it is illegal to kill one. Nearly everyone I spoke to that day and night was certain it was a crime – albeit a difficult law to enforce. By dinner time, we Googled and found lots of hits with the terms: “myth,” “urban legend” and “$50 fine.” The short answer is: No, it is not illegal to kill a praying mantis BUT it should be because they are beyond beneficial for your garden, farm and outdoor life. Here’s why:
- Praying mantises are 24/7 predators of harmful/annoying insects like mosquitoes, flies, aphids, roaches, beetles, grasshoppers and night-dwelling moths.
- Even small, newborn mantises are hungry and will immediately begin feeding on the smaller pests.
- They’re just plain awesome. Their triangular heads can turn 180 degrees and their compound eyes can detect movement up to 60 feet away.
An exact history of the myth is hard to isolate. It appears to date back quite a few decades (to the 1950s) and seems to have been born in the creative, collective imaginations of backyard gardeners. My best guess is that after witnessing the healing power the mantis and its prayer pose have on pest-ridden patches of produce, household rules about protecting them popped up.
While I feel some journalistic duty to report here that mantis homicide is not technically a crime, I’d like to propose that we continue to perpetuate this fantastic myth and protect these awesome creatures. If it means getting my sister a mantis-moving baseball glove, so be it.
*Special thanks to Rebecca Carter, John Rorapaugh and Jennifer Beidel for their thoughtful conversations that contributed to this post.