I suppose one could say she was hunting, but for her the hunt was not much of an active stalking, at least not at first. It was more like being in the right place at the right time. It meant being someplace where there was some reasonable likelihood that another insect would land nearby or perhaps crawl within striking range of those extremely quick forelegs. If something landed a bit too far away she would creep toward it but speed-of-leg was not her strength. It was the speed of those forelegs that really did the trick. She hung out in the upper parts of that boxwood where her favorite perch was at least four feet above the ground. That was something of a puzzle for me. Why was she so high in the bush when all of the good stuff seemed to be on the ground?
Normally they eat from one end to the other. Everything goes down. This time it would be different. She removed one hind leg and ate the juiciest part of the large muscle before just dropping the rest of it to the ground. Then she moved to the soft body parts in the abdomen and thorax and ate her fill there. A little fly who, at any another time might, itself, have been a tasty morsel for the mantis, now sat right in front of her watching the feast, perhaps hoping to share some of the leftovers.
But this was not going to be a windfall for the fly, not that day. As I watched, The Last Mantis suddenly lifted her head from the open cavity, released her grip, and dropped what was left of the grasshopper to the ground. She was done. It was time for some preening to remove the spatters of the meal. I watched as she carefully wiped and licked every part of her face, eyes, forelimbs and anything else that had been soiled during the capture, struggle, and subsequent meal. She reminded me of a cat. The meticulous preening seemed such a counterpoint to the rather brutal scenario that preceded it.
As for The Last Mantis, after cleaning herself all over, she just hung in the same place for a long time, upside down, her quick and powerful forelimbs just drooping, as if they were limp. She was looking down, almost reaching, toward the fallen grasshopper, now teeming with ants. She seemed to watch as they consumed the remains particle by particle. It was as if she were contemplating her own future; a future that would come sooner rather than later.
A few days later it got very cold. Nighttime temperatures fell into the thirties. I knew what that would mean for The Last Mantis but on the following days I went looking for her anyway. Nothing. I probed the bushes, gently pulling the branches apart so I could peer into the lower areas. To be honest, at this point I was looking for her remains, hoping to take her inside for some last photographs. Nothing. She was gone. Perhaps a bird picked her off or perhaps she dropped to the ground and the ants took her away. In any case I know I will never see her again. She is now a memory, a collection of photographs, and another source of deep gratitude for my many experiences that come from just watching.
Oh, there is one more thing. In rambling through the branches of the bush looking for her body, I discovered one more fresh egg case left there by The Last Mantis. She had not wasted the nutrients she took in during her final days. Something to look forward to next Spring.