The National Geographic photographer-author of It's an Armadillo! (1989) follows the life cycle of an insect that attracts attention with its extraordinary appearance. Lavies' text is clear and mostly straightforward, including a description of mating (""He donates sperm. . .""). Her dramatic close-up photos are skillfully composed, but the insect's elongated body and odd contortions make some of them a little confusing, and the context of the last one--a praying mantis posed on a pile of tomatoes and rhododendronlike leaves--is unexplained. Scale, which varies, is suggested only by a few visual clues. Attractive, but not wholly committed to the scientific point of view.