Most people probably recognize a praying mantis. This two-inch-long green and brown insect is seen along streams or in our gardens where it eats pests.
But praying mantises are nonnative to the Colorado Plateau.
Less well known is the agile ground mantis, which is native to the plateau. These thin brown or gray insects top out at an inch and a quarter at full adult size in late summer and fall. They like bare, dry soil—and look like sticks as they dart between rocks or clumps of grass.
Agile ground mantises are active predators in pursuit of other insects. As prey, they’re quick to evade birds, lizards, and our feet.
Mantises live solo until mating time. Then, a male finds a female by following pheromone tracks. He approaches her slowly lest he become a meal before they mate. During mating though, a female usually consumes the male’s head.
In autumn, the female climbs into a snakeweed or sagebrush and lays an egg case in the branches. The egg case survives the winter, and 10 to 20 eggs hatch in spring.
Agile ground mantises have a wide range—from Mexico to British Columbia, the Dakotas to California—and throughout the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin, up to 7,000 feet elevation.
On your next hike, watch for what looks like a tiny twig zigzagging across the trail. It could be an agile ground mantis.