I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I just saw my first praying mantis. I mean I’ve seen them before, but someone else has always had to point them out for me. And this is no minor-league insect. It’s got heft. It’s got charisma. It’s weird as hell. It looks like WALL-E jammed onto a hoagie.

I like to think I’m a decent noticer of things but the fact is I was a lot better at it when I was a kid. My life was all green snakes and cool bugs, chigger bites and dog poop. That’s not a coincidence. If I rolled around in the grass now maybe I’d see more stuff, but I mostly don’t. Plus I was closer to the ground in general, then. Not much, but some.

My praying mantis was sort of hanging upside down from a lantana blossom and not moving at all. I thought it might be dead because I thought they were supposed to be green. But it wasn’t green or dead. Its freaky little triangle head with eyes at the corners was cranking around to have a look at me. The praying mantis can turn its head and look over its own shoulder, if you can even call that a shoulder. Mantises have shoulders the way Marjorie Taylor Greene has a brain. You can kind of see where it would be if she had one, but she doesn’t.

If I’d known a little more about my new friend I might not have gotten such a close look. Praying mantises are carnivorous predators of the first order. They stalk their prey slowly or lie in wait, and when they draw a bead on it, they blast out and grab it with their snatchinators.

Or forearms, as they’re sometimes called, or raptorial forelegs, and yes indeedy raptorial and rape have the same root. The mantis has good vision with those two big eyes on the corners of its little Dorito head and three bonus eyes besides. And between their excellent eyesight and the fact that they’re almost as fast as an electron when they get the notion, they make quite a tidy living.

I don’t know what the little pencil-neck is doing dragging that big old abdomen around. It looks like a blimp hangar, big enough to store a hummingbird in. Which is handy, because evidently (gad) praying mantises eat hummingbirds, among other horrors. Random arthropods are the norm, but lizards, small fish, frogs, and birds are all on the menu. That goes both ways, though, and a mantis that is threatened by a predator will stand up straight with his toothy arms apart and wings spread and mouth open to look bigger. This also works with bears.

Back to the unfortunate hummers. I assumed that only some gigantic foreign monster mantis—you know, probably from China, they have big weird shit there—would be able to dispatch a bird, but no, even the regular ones have been observed to do it. Most predators of birds do something to incapacitate their victims so that dining is not such a rambunctious experience but the mantis is not among them. It’s just super grabby and it holds the living bird tight and begins to chew on it at any likely soft entry point, such as an eyeball, and then eats its brains. The scientific term for this is “gross.”

Famously, the praying mantis is also reported to be into sexual cannibalism. To mate, the male jumps the female from behind, hangs on, and, um, “arches his abdomen to deposit and store sperm in a special chamber near the tip of the female’s abdomen,” pardon the rough language. They’re good at sticking the landing initially but sometimes lose points on the dismount, if not their entire head. The whole experience probably heightens things for the male, who is observed to, um, deliver sperm more vigorously while being eaten.

That’s probably universal.

Some researchers cast doubt on the practice, noting that it has been observed only in a lab setting and the act of observing may alter what is being observed. For instance, the movements of the researchers might make female mantids suddenly peckish.

Or, it could be they just like it when you watch.