Wandering through the orchard this week I came upon a vividly green, 3.5-inch-long Praying Mantis. The two features that always make such an encounter interesting are, first: It's unusual to see such a large insect, and; second, when you draw near, the critter turns his head and looks up at you with apparently the same curiosity that causes you to look down at him.
Actually the name Praying Mantis is a bit ambiguous because in North America alone we have about 20 mantis species and they all more or less pray. Of course the praying is actually their holding their spiny front legs in a position enabling them to shoot forward, grab prey, and hold the prey while it is being nibbled away.
My orchard species was the introduced Chinese Mantid, TENODERA ARIDIFOLIA, which you can see at http://troyb.com/photo/gallery/00007739.htm. In the Northeast the common one is the introduced European Mantid, MANTIS RELIGIOSA. The one I most commonly saw in Mississippi was the Carolina Mantis, STAGMOMANTIS CAROLINA, and of course there's also a California Mantis, STAGMOMANTIS CALIFORNICA
Mantises are spectacular predators. Stories are told about females eating their males while still copulating...
If you enjoy such details of wild nature, you'll love my page on insect behavior, where I relate a story told by the famous French naturalist J. Henri Fabre. In that little drama the stars are a wasp, a bee, and a mantis. It's at http://www.backyardnature.net/bugbhav.htm.