A Statement of Purpose

Since 2012 I have been responsible for
the garden at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum on Antietam National Battlefield. The Pry House garden began as a 19th century style medicinal and kitchen garden, including medicinal plants, herbs, and vegetables. As close as possible, these plants mirrored those available to the Pry Family in the 1860s, meaning heirloom varieties. Since then, the garden has transformed to focus exclusively on medicinal plants, becoming an exhibit of the flora that was employed by military and civilian caregivers in the Civil War Era.

I am strictly an amateur, with no real experience in growing a garden. The purpose of this blog is to document my experiences as I learn by doing. It is anything but authoritative and I welcome any comments and advice for a greenhorn. Please be kind!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Deadly Predator

In the Pry Garden, I see a myriad of small creatures, or signs that they have been there. Some of these are bad for the garden, some are very good, and others are neutral. I encounter amphibians like toads and salamanders, mammals like rabbits and groundhogs, birds like bluebirds and wrens, and a host of insects and arachnids, many of which I cannot identify.

A Praying Mantis in the Rosemary Bushes of the Pry Garden

A favorite and regular insect that I see in the garden is the Praying Mantis. We have so many at the Pry House that I frequently encounter them while in the garden. I have always had a great affinity for the mantis since I was very young, and to find one was always very exciting.
A Mantis which I Photographed Last Year in the Garden
In doing some reading on the mantis, I have learned that there are many different species, not just around the world, but right here in Maryland. Some are native the United States, but others have been introduced, intentionally or accidentally, from Europe and Asia. Some are quite unusual, but most look fairly similar and I can't quite tell the difference. Therefore, I am not sure which species we have living here in the Pry Garden. (If anyone might know, please comment!) I also learned that the name "Praying Mantis" traditionally applies to just one European species, Mantis religiosa, but we generally apply it to all mantises.

A sandy-colored mantis photographed in California; up close, it looks like an alien creature!

Up close, the mantis really looks like a scary alien creature from movie. That impression is somewhat justified, as it is a super-alert and voracious predator. A praying mantis feeds mostly on large insects, but it will eat just about any creature it can successfully subdue. A mantis has not poisons or stings, but grabs its prey and begins to eat it alive. Mantises will even eat one another, especially when young; the female praying mantis is infamous for the practice of killing and eating her mate, which is true, if exaggerated.

An Asian Species of Mantis Chows Down on an Insect!
Here in the Pry Garden, the praying mantis a mixed blessing, but mostly good. It eats just about every insect it can get its raptorial legs around, which are mostly pests, but could also include beneficial insects like native pollinators. Some people purchase mantis eggs to encourage them as a form of pest management in the garden.

A Shed "Skin" from a Praying Mantis in the Garden

Someone else's picture of a mantis egg case

The mantises that I have photographed here are not yet mature. Praying mantises will hatch as tiny nymphs from eggs when the weather warms in Spring or early Summer. They will undergo several periods of growth and molting of their exoskeletons before reaching adulthood. Most species of adult mantis have wings and the smaller males can usually fly short distances. In the Fall, mantises will mate, lay eggs which will overwinter, and die with the arrival of Winter.

The praying mantis is well-adapted at camouflage, which helps it to snag unsuspecting prey, but also to avoid becoming prey itself to larger animals. Their color, usually green or brown, blends in with their environment of leaves and bark. Some mantises can also slowly change their color over successive moltings. Most mantises will also gently rock back and forth, which may be an attempt to mimic foliage blowing in the wind, but might also be a technique to improve their vision. I have often seen them doing this on the bushes.

I see you! The camouflage is fairly effective in our rosemary bushes.

The praying mantis may be a dangerous creature in the world of insects, but they are totally harmless to humans. The next time you are outside, look closely in the leaves and you just might find this odd-looking critter. Don't be afraid and don't kill them; they are really a good friend to keep you company in the garden.

A friend was hanging out