Is this a mantis?
Is this a praying mantis? It has been on my screen door for over a week. Is this insect normally found here in Santa Barbara?
Yes, this is probably the European Mantis, Mantis religiosa. While California does have a few native mantis species, in urban areas we often see one of a rabble of species introduced to gardens by people hoping that they will prey on caterpillars and other food-plant-damaging critters. The so-called Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinensis) is another popular one for this purpose. The European Mantis is plain-colored, often bright green, but can be positively identified in every case by a black-and-white bullseye pattern on the inside of the front coxa (the “armpit”), which is not visible in your photos, but can be seen when the mantis extends its front legs.
These are captivating creatures that, probably because of their human-like movements, seem almost to possess personality and intelligence. They will readily accept live insects using their fast-moving, so-called “raptorial” (=adapted for grabbing prey) front legs. “Praying” mantis is the proper common name, of course referring to the way they hold their front legs at rest, but it’s been said that “preying” mantis would be more appropriate. As the late Ashley Gurney (a mantis specialist) put it: “the only thing mantids would seem to pray for is a square meal.”
Schlinger Chair and Curator of Entomology Matthew Gimmel, Ph.D.