If that blade of grass is moving and there's no wind, it might be because it's actually a praying mantis.

While the praying mantis is not native to Oregon - only the smaller, brown ground mantis is - there are plenty of them around. Maybe even more than usual this year. Jim LaBonte, a taxonomic and survey entomologist for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said the insects like large, open fields and gardens, so they thrive in Eastern Oregon.

Their colors range from tan to green, depending on the environment. Those that are brown tend to live on branches and twigs, while greener praying mantises thrive on green foliage.

"They do this for two reasons," he said. "They're either trying to camouflage themselves from prey or are trying to camouflage themselves from predators."

Contrary to a common myth, praying mantises do not change color depending on the environment, like a chameleon.

"They're one color and stay that color," LaBonte said.

During the winter, female mantises lay their eggs, which hatch in the spring. They reach maturity during late summer, sprouting wings that can carry them several hundred feet.

The name praying mantis comes from the manner in which the insect holds up the forepart of its body with its enormous front legs, as though in an attitude of prayer. It uses those large front legs to snag its prey.

The females can be especially aggressive, even toward their male counterparts. Females have been known to bite the heads off of the males they are mating with. But that doesn't happen as often as some people think, LaBonte said.

"If a male has a choice in the matter, he avoids it," LaBonte said. "In nature, the males have a higher chance at getting away."

But if the female has her way and decapitates her mate, he can still finish the reproductive process, LaBonte said. As with many insects, the brain in the head of the praying mantis controls the senses, not all functions. The praying mantis has several other brain systems, including one near its thorax that controls the legs and the reproductive system.

LaBonte noted that many people purchase egg masses of praying mantises to place in their gardens as a biological control to eat other problem bugs. But that can pose problems.

"They'll eat anything," LaBonte said. "Even other praying mantises, if there's the opportunity. It's not good to be a small praying mantis when there are larger ones around." They also eat moths and bees.

However, even though the praying mantis may always appear to be in a defensive position, they can serve as fun pets, LaBonte said.

"They're very interesting pets," he said. "You can keep them in a jar. They become pretty accustomed to people handling them." And its mouth is too small to bite a human.

"They're fascinating little creatures," LaBonte said.

For more information about praying mantises and other mantids, www.enature.com or www.inspect-insecta.com.

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