Protector of the Fig

First, A Little Weather Talk

Happy September! Wow, what happened to August? For that matter, what happened to June and July? Summer’s almost over and you can almost smell Fall in the air.  Fall officially begins on September 23 this year and will continue to grace us with its presence until December 21.

Now we’ve all heard it a million times before, but I just have to say it out loud… what happened to the year?  Really. Soon we’ll be bombarded by an onslaught of holiday songs, eating tons of sugary candy, and ooohing and ahhhhing at the sweet little ones all dressed up in their adorable pint-sized costumes.  Then it’s “that time of year” again, the crisp cool air-filled with delectable aromas, over-the-top buffets and festive seated gatherings offering a variety of annual favorites, and everything’s all glittery and twinkling. Glittery… now, that’s my favorite.

Before Fall gets here, we have time to enjoy one last Summer holiday with our families.  Here in Southern Nevada, the holiday weekend should be a nice one with daytime temperatures expected to be around 100 °F.  A nice break from the 107 °F – 110 °F temperatures we’ve been having. Listen to me, going on as if it was super hot or something. Us Southern Nevadans are used to seeing at least a few days of 115 °F – 118 °F and night-time highs in the low-mid 90’s. It’s been very mild this year.   Some say we’re in a normal cooling cycle here in the desert, so I guess we should enjoy it while it’s here.

Now, Meet the Protector

Yes.  We have a real-life protector of our orchard, rather, of our Black Mission Fig tree. He/she (not really sure which, but I think its a boy) is a dedicated hard-working Praying Mantis and has been very loyal to the Fig.  Every time I check on my new little friend, he is happily hanging out somewhere amidst the canopy of the fig. The mantis seems to be very content under the cool shady umbrella the fig tree provides.  Now this all may sound quite ordinary for a praying mantis, but what’s interesting about this story is the fact that I saved the mantis’ life and introduced it to its new “fig home” over two months ago.  It really likes this tree.

It all started on a hot and mildly windy day in late June.  How do I know what the weather was like or even the actual day? I’ll give you a hint.  It’s called a “Garden Diary”.  Yeah, you know I’m gonna be writing about that in the near future.  Keep an eye out for it.

Okay, back to my story…  On that late day of June, hubby and I were working on the garage patching and sanding away at our newly installed drywall.  Overcome with drywall dust and desperate to remove the mask that was cutting into my face, I decided to drag around the shop vac on the other side of the garage and suck up some of the piles of powdery mess left all over the floor (drywall is one of the messiest jobs). 

As I proceeded to vacuum up the mess, I came across a teensy tinsy little green thing crawling around within the cement floor joint. It all happened so fast, but before I could get a closer look at the miniscule little garage visitor, Schloop! The little guy was sucked right up to meet certain death.  There was little hope of escape from the dusty bowels of the vacuum or from the larger and more predatory critters purposefully imprisoned just minutes before the visitor’s unexpected entry.

The whole event saddened me, because at the very moment I saw his miniscule body yanked away from his strange new world to a powdery grave, I realized that I may have just sucked up one of the best friends a gardener could have.  A baby praying mantis.

Continuing on with my task, I remained in disbelief over my carelessness. In an instant, I, of all people, eliminated an important recruit for the garden.  Where did it come from and how did it get in the garage?

My thoughts began to wonder back to years ago in my garden in Southern California. There, we placed praying mantis egg sacks in the garden and were delighted every time the little hatchlings would emerge and enter into their new garden world.  They were very hard workers and I befriended one (or, I like to think so).  Overtime, my green friend grew to be quite large (a female I believe) and when I would visit in the garden, I’d gently hold out my finger in front of her.  She was the friendliest mantis I’d ever encountered and would always accept my invitation by walking out onto my finger, look up at me and cock her head slightly.  It was incredible how animated she was. 

Now if you’re a little squeamish about insects in general, perhaps you may want to skip this part.  I’ve always been adventurous and inquisitive when it came to insects, lizards, snakes and such, so it was a very natural thing for me. The reason she accepted my invitations so eagerly (I’m convinced of this), was on one our first encounters, I caught and offered her a small white moth.  To my amazement, the moth was quickly snatched from my two finger grip and devoured like only a praying mantis could (eeeuuww).  Thought you’d enjoy the little side story.

Shortly after the incident with the vacuum, my husband pointed out another little green critter nearby. I quickly went to see and yes – it was a praying mantis.  Quickly scooping up the little praying mantis with my hands, I knew the perfect place to put my new little friend to work, my Black Mission Fig tree.  That was over two months ago, and he’s still there.  Guess it felt the fig tree was the perfect place, too.

Now, every time I check on or water my front yard orchard, I look for my new little recruit to find him dangling from the underside of one of the fig leaves looking happy and content.  Our fig has been pest free, so he’s doing a fine job! Today, my little buddy is about 2 ½” long.

 

Praying Mantis Facts

  • Awesome natural pest control – I highly recommend you place out a few egg sacks at the appropriate time of year.  Praying mantis have big appetites, but watch out, they usually eat each other during their nymph stage and while they mate – typically, it’s the female doing all the munching).
  • Very Territorial – praying mantis stake out an area to be called their own and will fight (and eat) intruding praying mantis.
  • Animated little guys – once you experience a few in your garden, you’ll find them to be silly and very animated. Something to enjoy while you work in your garden. 
  • A Great Pet –  Yes, believe it or not, because of their unique behavior and appearance, many people actually keep praying mantis as pets.  They feed them moths (which, apparently is a favorite), grasshoppers and such, and use a spray bottle to moisten napkins or add droplets to the walls of their enclosure to provide water.
  • Green color acts as camouflage – these guys blend well into their surroundings which aids the mantis in ambushing their prey.  This camouflage also makes it challenging to locate them if you’re checking in on them.
  • Praying for Food? – If you’ve never seen a praying mantis in person than I’m certain you’ve seen one in a photo or on-line.  You know that their front legs are angled into a position that looks like they are praying.  What you may not know is that these front legs have several spikes along the underside, which helps the mantis to quickly snare and pin their prey in place.
  • Turn Head 180 degrees – This unique ability helps them to quietly spot potential prey without having to give away their position.
  • What Big Eyes You Have– Along with being able to turn their head 180 degrees, praying mantis has great eye sight which is aided by two large compound eyes and three simple eyes located between them.  It’s been documented that they can actually see about 50 feet away. Cool. What many folks don’t know about praying mantis is that at night, their eyes change from green or light brown to an eerie near black color. Quite an ominous sight if you encounter one at nighttime.

Hubby and I were some of the fortunate souls to witness this.  Back in California, we decided to look for my little green garden buddy at night. With our flashlights in hand, we scoured the general area she would hang out in then something caught our eye.  On the ground alongside the house was a medium-sized praying mantis.  From the size alone, I could tell this was not MY little buddy.  This praying mantis was unlike any we had ever encountered in the past.

As we moved in for a closer look, we positioned our light directly on it – bad idea.  It quickly turned its whole body in our direction and with its big scary black eyes staring at us, opened its mouth, and proceeded to fan out and quickly flicker its colorful wings (another new sight).  Well, it was enough to send both my husband and I running and screaming to the back door of the house like a bunch of frightened little school girls. Well, maybe not the screaming, but it sure surprised the heck out of us.

  • Lifespan – praying mantis can live up to 10-12 months.

There’s tons more info out there on these great little helpers. I encourage you to do a little bit of research on your own.

Hope you plan to celebrate the holiday weekend with your family and/or friends.  Now go out and get some great BBQ fixings at the store and I’ll chat with you tomorrow.

Many Blessings,

The Artistic Desert Gardener

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