praying mantis

Large, green praying mantids are actually nonnative, and their benefit to our gardens is questionable.

In the garden, plants and insects are intrinsically linked. Here are some popular myths and perhaps surprising facts about the bugs that you may encounter this summer.

Killing a praying mantis is not illegal.

The myth that you will be fined for killing a praying mantis originated in the 1950s and still circulates today. It is not true and never has been!

The large green praying mantids are actually nonnative, and their benefit to our gardens is questionable. They do not discriminate about what they eat, so they have been known to devour beneficial insects, reptiles and even hummingbirds, along with pests. As a native insect, the smaller (around 2 inches) Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) plays a more beneficial role in our ecosystem.

Glowworms really do exist.

These are actually firefly eggs and larvae. You may see them in areas of undisturbed soil and leaf litter in your garden. Firefly larvae live near the surface of the ground for one to two years before emerging as adults.

We don’t have "murder hornets" in Lancaster County.

First of all, the name “murder hornet” is an unnecessarily sensational name applied to the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia). They are likely to kill a colony of honeybees but very unlikely to kill a human. However, Asian giant hornets have not been found outside of the state of Washington! If you see a large “hornet” it may be one of these:

• The European hornet is about 1 to 1 1/4 inches long. These imposing hornets are nocturnal and are attracted to porch lights. They prey on bald-face hornets and yellow jackets.

• The cicada killer is a large, but docile, wasp. About 1 1/2 inches long, they are often seen flying close to the surface of the ground. They store paralyzed cicadas underground. The tunnels they create for this purpose can be a nuisance in the landscape. Keeping the soil moist is usually enough to encourage cicada killers to seek another tunneling spot.

One of the most threatening bugs is also one of the smallest.

The blacklegged tick, sometimes called a deer tick, may be the most dangerous creature in your garden. Blacklegged ticks transmit Lyme disease, which can cause a host of debilitating symptoms, especially if not detected and treated early.

According to a 2019 CDC report, Pennsylvania had the third highest incidence of Lyme disease in the nation. Ticks live in brushy or wooded areas and wait for potential victims on the tips of grasses and shrubs.

To protect yourself against tick-borne illnesses: Wear long sleeves and pants in overgrown or wooded areas; when returning indoors, shower and inspect skin; wash clothes worn outdoors and dry at a high temperature. If you have been bitten by a tick, the Tick Research Lab of Pennsylvania (ticklab.org) will analyze the tick for disease at no charge.

Penn State Master Gardeners of Lancaster County are here to help with both plant and creature questions! Please email questions, including details, and pictures to LancasterMG@psu.edu.

Lois Miklas is an area coordinator, for several counties including Lancaster, for the Penn State Extension Master Gardener program.

What to Read Next