What: Meryl & Julia spotted a hitchhiker in our house today - it apparently came in on one of my sweatshirts. This adult female European mantis (Mantis religiosa) was a blast to watch. They're visual predators, focusing right now on all these late summer, early fall insects like crickets and grasshoppers fattening up for a late breeding season. They move slowly and awkwardly through lawns, relying on camouflage and stealth to ambush their prey. Their "praying" arms are really vicious graspers that clasp onto a prey and don't let go. Here, the lady is just using those forelegs to hold a rear leg that it was cleaning.
Ecological notes: Mantises mate in the fall and lay their eggs in a frothy mess (called an ootheca) that hardens. Eggs overwinter and hatch in the late spring. This time of year they're fattening up stores for laying all those eggs. Oh, and apparently it's a myth that they eat the bridegroom. That only happens in captive settings. They're pretty finicky when it comes to visual stimuli so a lab setting, where they're in a glass case results in some weird behavior. In the video, she responded to my movement, but seemed relatively unperturbed when I stomped my feet against the ground to try and elicit a response. The creepy part was that she was watching me, intently. I think it's extra obvious because she could move her head, but it felt like she was studying me - it reminded me of Muldoon, the Aussie hunter in Jurassic Park, who says of the raptors: "That one... when she looks at you, you can see she's working things out."
Where: My backyard
Other notes: For adult praying mantises, females have much larger thoraxes and their wings are never longer than their bodies, while males are more slender and their wings are longer than their bodies are.