This is a California Mantis, Stagmomantis californica. Being a Maine boy, I didn't know they lived out here, or much about them, until I did a little research.
This is actually just one member of the clade Mantodea, which contains around 2,000 species, about 20 of which live in the US. Mantids are probably best known for their
body morphology, from which their name is derived ("Praying" refers to the position of the front legs, and "mantis" is the Greek word for "prophet"), but also the fact that they are sexually cannibalistic.
Mantids have a long, slender body with large forelegs, modified into giant pincers that are good at catching and holding prey, which can include insects and arachnids, but also small reptiles, birds, and mammals [cautionary heads up to those who like mice more than insects]. These, along with the ability to swivel their heads 180˚ (exceptional in the insect world) make them excellent predators.
Insects in general are fascinating creatures, mostly because of their prevalence (there are over a million cataloged species, more than double the total number of other species on the planet, with likely 5-9 million more that we don't know about), their resilience (terrestrial insects have been around since the Devonian period, about 407 million years ago), and their adaptability (they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and have some amazing environmental adaptations (like this moth on cement). Mantids can have the same camouflaging coloration, which helps them hide from predators, but also from prey, for the element of surprise, like this one, on a gum tree:
or these Ghost mantids:
Like all arthropods, mantids' growth is marked by a molting cycle, and they grow into and shed an exoskeleton several times during their lifetime, which is about 10-12 months. Some can have large wings, but are usually only used by the males in searching for female mates during the mating season. The one on my shoulder appears to be a female, because her wings extend only part-way down her abdomen, (males' wings extend beyond the end), and her larger cerci.
Speaking of sex, the praying mantis is also notorious for its kinky sexual practices. In an interesting evolutionary twist, during or immediately post-copulation, the female mantis will turn around and start eating the male, as a high-energy snack for the developing "buns in the oven." Check this out:
In most species, the males like to survive a sexual encounter so that they can go on to knock up more females and get as much of their genetic information into the pool as possible. However, in this case the male is offed after his first time, and his body contributes to the health of his young. His offspring still benefit, so it's not all bad.
The praying mantis is a fascinating example of a product of evolution, and these capable predators can be found all over the world, often in your back yard, or in my case, neighborhood park.
(images from Wikipedia, video from YouTube)