Mornings have been relatively cool lately (in the low 80's), so we've been working in the yard before it gets too hot and humid.
Occasionally, we find Praying Mantises.
This one was living in a clump of dried up wildflowers in the courtyard. S/he is about 2 inches long, and a pale green color.
Praying Mantis is a highly voracious and efficient predator. They eat crickets, flies, spiders and (depending on the size of the mantis) smaller lizards, rodents and birds.
They can sit still for hours on end, gently swaying to mimic the motion of a leaf or branch in a breeze.
They will also patiently stalk their prey. When the unsuspecting victim is within reach, the praying mantis will grab it with its forearms in a lightning-fast strike.
The prey is devoured alive. A sharp, cutting mouth tears through the tough exoskeleton of insect prey. Spikes on the forearms help the mantis keep hold of its victim.
Praying mantises have excellent binocular vision, and can turn their head from side to side - up to 300º range of motion in some species. They are primarily diurnal.
The mantis life cycle has three stages: egg, nymph and adult. Mating season is typically in autumn. The male is sometimes consumed by the female after mating.
Eggs are laid in a frothy mass that hardens into a protective case, or ootheca. Egg capsules that survive the winter will hatch in late spring or early summer. The hatchling nymphs are ravenous and feed on fruit flies, aphids - or each other if sufficient food is not available. The mantis nymph will grow and molt a number of times before reaching adult size and beginning the cycle again. Praying mantises only live for about a year.
Many garden supply stores sell mantis egg cases for biological pest control. Or you can watch in your yard for the egg cases that have been laid on the underside of twigs and leaves.
After our photo session, I moved the mantis to another part of the yard where s/he is less likely to be disturbed.
A good reason not to use pesticides in the garden...
"Fear the bug!" ~Mantis, Kung Fu Panda 2
More info about Praying Mantis: www.theprayingmantis.org