“Watch for them in later summer when they fly from place to place in fields and clearings,” suggests Bugs of Ontario, a Lone Pine field guide by John Acorn and Ian Sheldon. That was precisely what we saw on our walk this afternoon. It’s only the third or fourth one I’ve seen in nature. They’re not uncommon, but stealthy, well-camouflaged predators.
I frequently walk a 20-minute circuit to the east end of our block, through a right-of-way into the conservation area, along a track that passes through the pine plantation and circles our neighbourhood, up a steep hill, through a meadow at the west end of our subdivision, to Edinburgh Road and back to our street.
Today as we crossed the meadow, an ungainly but beautiful insect flew across our path. Its transparent wings glowed pale gold in the sunlight. Then it landed in the weeds and posed for the camera. I was surprised and thrilled at what I found staring back at me.
Unlike all other insects, mantises have articulated necks allowing them to look over their shoulders. If you approach, they will fix their hypnotic, disturbing gaze upon you.
Mantises are effective predators and will eat anything they can grab, often cannibalizing their own kind, but are harmless to humans. Gardeners like them because they eat insect pests. However, mantises will prey just as readily on pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Ontario does not have any native mantises, and this is the only common species, Mantis religiosa. It was introduced from Europe about a century ago.
Continuing along the path, I almost stepped on another one. Two in one day! So if you go walking to enjoy this fine weather and the vibrant wildflowers of our September meadows, keep an eye out for this insect.