Category Archives: Wildlife

Mammoth Wasp (Megascolia (Regiscolia) maculata flavifrons) Avispa parasita de cuatro puntas

This is a very large solitary wasp, the female reaching up to 4.5cm whereas the male is a little smaller. This species appears in warm weather during late May, June, July and August. They hold no danger to humans despite their size and black / yellow warning colours. (Above image Megascolia bidens)

They feed eagerly on flower nectar and this is the best time to view them.

Megascolia flavifrons male and female examples

Mammoth Wasp (Megascolia (Regiscolia) maculata flavifrons) Avispa parasita de cuatro puntas
Mammoth Wasp (Megascolia (Regiscolia) maculata flavifrons) Avispa parasita de cuatro puntas

Left: Female showing yellow head Right: Male, note long antennae

The larger female can be told apart by her yellow face and short antennae. The male has a black head and longer antennae. Both have two yellow bands on their abdomens which can sometimes be divided to form 4 spots, which is more evident on the female in these pictures.

You may see several of these wasps flying around decaying tree stumps, they have a purpose here. They are searching for larvae of a particular beetle.

Inside the rotten wood may be young of the Rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes nasicornis). The female Mammoth wasp, once she has discovered the huge larvae, will sting one to paralyze it and then lay her egg on the outer skin.

Mammoth Wasp (Megascolia (Regiscolia) maculata flavifrons) Avispa parasita de cuatro puntas
The rhino beetle larvae is the food supply for the larvae of the mammoth wasp. Left: Rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes nasicornis) Right: Rhinoceros beetle Larva.

On hatching, the larvae of the Mammoth wasp will eat into its host thereby killing it. The larva of the wasp then creates a cocoon near to the meal remains. It will stay in this cocoon over winter and hatch out once the spring weather warms sufficiently.

Family: Scoliidae

  • Scientific name: Megascolia (Regiscolia) maculata flavifrons (Fabricius 1775)
  • Also accepted as Scolia flavifrons

There are several very similar species within Iberia, including:

Megascolia bidens
Megascolia bidens showing yellow antennae
  • Megascolia bidens – always has coloured antennae, either reddish or yellow.

Other mammoth wasps

  • Scolia erythrocephala – has more than two yellow bands
  • Scolia hirta – two yellow bands and a violet tinge on wings
  • Scolia hortorum
  • Scolia sexmaculata – has six yellow spots

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Andalusian Funnel-Web Spider – Macrothele calpeiana – La araña negra de los alcornocales

In Andalucia there is a fairly large, black burrowing spider belonging to the venomous funnel-web tarantula family. Its scientific name is Macrothele calpeiana and it belongs to the Hexathelidae group which is normally associated with Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Central Africa and South America.

There is one species known for the Mediterranean region. (Walckenaer, 1805). The genus name is derived from Ancient Greek makro meaning big and thele which refers to the spinnerets. The origin of the name calpeiana is from “Calpe” a name that the Phoenicians gave to Gibraltar.

It is known in Spanish as “La araña negra de los alcornocales”, as within the Los Alcornocales Natural Park (Cadiz province) the largest populations are found. “Los Alcornocales” is a forest of evergreen oak trees, mainly Cork Oaks (Quercus suber) with a vast shady canopy creating an almost tropical feel. The temperatures and humidity levels in that area are more suited to these spiders’ requirements with a deep leaf litter for ease of burrowing.

Andalusian funnel web spider (Macrothele calpeiana)
Andalusian funnel web spider (Macrothele calpeiana)

The first sign of their location is a silken white, sheet-like web anchored firmly to twigs, rocks, plants etc. This narrows to a tube near the centre, the entrance to the tunnel, which often leads to cooler depths underground.

There may be a labyrinth of several entrances to the one tunnel and the range of sites for these webs can be a simple scrape under a rock, vegetated banks, under logs, crevices in dry-stone walls, tree trunk bases and even tree hollows up to 2metres above ground level. The underground portion can be to a depth of 80cm, the upper part of which has a non-sticky web lining and the rest is left bare. The day-time temperature at the burrow end can be 3 to 5 degrees centigrade cooler than at the entrance.

Andalusian funnel web spider (Macrothele calpeiana)
Andalusian funnel web spider (Macrothele calpeiana)

The Andalucian funnel-web spider is considered to be the largest in Europe and is easily recognized. They are jet black with a glossy carapace and fine hairs on their legs and abdomen. The 1.5cm long spinnerets, at the rear, almost look like extra legs. The body can be up to 3.5cm long and the stretched legs reaching a span of 8cm.When under threat it can raise up its front legs into an attack position, exposing its fangs.

This is the only spider in Europe to be protected by the European Union Habitats Directive. They are found mostly in Cádiz and Málaga provinces with smaller numbers in scattered enclaves discovered in Huelva, Sevilla, Granada, Jaén, Gibraltar and the furthest north Badajoz, Extremadura.

Two smaller communities found in North Africa are thought to be accidental imports from Spain. Further reports of their existence on the French side of the Pyrenees have been put down to their being carried with Olive trees and such, but they are unlikely to survive cold winter temperatures.

Andalusian funnel web spider (Macrothele calpeiana)
Andalusian funnel web spider (Macrothele calpeiana)

These spiders are most active at night when they will wait at the tunnel entrance for prey to become glued onto the silken web. Their diet consists of small insects such as beetles, woodlouse, millipedes and crickets. When they feel the vibration of a trapped insect they will carefully approach, then bite the ill-fated prey with venom which will begin to liquefy it as they wrap it in silk. The venom is injected into their prey through openings in the tips of the pair of fangs. The glands that produce this venom are located in the two segments of the chelicerae. (The parts to which the fangs are attached).

“Dinner” is then taken into the private and protected retreat area behind the web to be devoured. After eating they are fastidious cleaners. Any food debris will be discarded away from the web and around an hour of thorough grooming will follow. Mites are often seen on the carapace of these spiders and this cleaning will minimize their numbers.
Andalusian Funnel-Web Spider – Macrothele calpeiana – La araña negra de los alcornocales. Close up showing the mites on a females back.

Around April-May males will wander around at night in search of one or more female with which to breed. It is thought that there are pheromones in the silk of a female’s web that attract a mate. A gentle courtship ensues, as the male does not want to become the next meal. The female will eat more over the ensuing weeks, then in early July seal herself into the retreat in order to produce the egg sac.

The females care for the egg sac by carrying it with them, maneuvering to different parts of the tunnel to maintain the right levels of temperature and humidity. The young have their first moult within the sac and she then helps to release them using her fangs. Possibly 100 to 250 eggs will hatch into spiderlings. They will accompany the female to the outer web after dark and are thought to feed on smaller prey. At some point cannibalism amongst the young may occur triggering dispersal of the survivors. At this point many of the young will fall prey to other animals.

As they prefer little disturbed areas and are active at night you will not normally encounter these spiders. Be cautious if you are moving logs, rocks etc and see a sheet like web. If provoked these spiders will rear up in a threatening manner and can even give an audible hiss. unlike its famous close relative is the Australian funnel-web (Atrax robustus) whose bites can be fatal, Macrothele calpeiana venom is mild in comparison giving a localized but painful swelling.

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Mantis in Iberia

Mantis in Iberia are carnivorous insects that rest on plants while they await their prey. The size, colour and shape can vary greatly between species through their virtually world wide distribution, which consists of more than 1800 species.

Within Iberia there are 15 species on the mainland with another on the Canary Islands.

The green, brown or grey body colouring that we see in these European species allows them to hide undetected amongst shrubs or grasses.

During their early growth stages they shed their outgrown exoskeleton and at this time can take on the colour of the surrounding vegetation i.e. brown for dried grasses or green for lush plants. They will only feed on active prey and have well developed senses to locate a promising meal.

An ability to turn their heads to view 300º is unusual amongst insects and large, compound eyes set on a triangular head is a common trait amongst the differing types.

Alert to both food and danger they mostly rely on their mimicry to give them cover.

Mantids of Iberia Ameles sp. and nymph of Empusa pennata
Mantids of Iberia Ameles sp. and nymph of Empusa pennata

In their preferred method of hunting they simply sit in a discreet position, blending with their surroundings. The common name “Praying” mantis is in reference to its poise whilst waiting patiently for food to come within reach.

The two front legs are folded as if in prayer but are armed with many sharp spikes and when an insect passes close by they can snatch it from the air, grasping it as they draw their forelegs back in a pincer movement, thereby preventing escape.

Sitting close to flowers will provide a steady stream of pollinating insects to choose from, as they hunt by day. The remaining two pairs of legs are used to climb, cling onto plant material and jump.

Common European Praying Mantis leg detail
Common European Praying Mantis leg detail

Many, but not all, mantids have wings and are good flyers. The outer set of wings are coloured to match the body, are harder and act as protection for the second set.

One species in particular has another use for their wings. The Iris oratoria mantis has coloured eye spots on its wings and will stand tall, flapping its wings if it feels threatened – aiming to startle a predator. The more common and widespread Mantis religiosa has eye spots on the inside of its forelimbs which it can show to ward off predators. Males are more likely to fly while in search of a mate, some may fly to lights at night.

During copulation the male places a sperm sac inside the female. On some occasions the female may eat the head of the male during copulation if food is scarce. By doing this not only does she get necessary nourishment before egg laying but she also removes the competition for food in the vicinity. As the eggs pass through her reproductive system, the stored sperm fertilizes them. She chooses a situation to place the eggs such as a branch, stem, rock or building and exudes a substance which develops into a foam and soon hardens. (Each species produces a slightly different shaped and coloured egg case). Inside this protective foam are individual cells, as few as thirty or up to three hundred depending on type. This ootheca affords protection to the developing nymphs. A single female may produce several oothecas.

Generally the mating and egg laying takes place at the end of summer with the eggs remaining in the ootheca over winter. When the temperatures are suitable the nymphs may all hatch together or in batches. They are voracious eaters and may cannibalise their siblings if there is not adequate food available. They will soon make the first of up to 7 moults before reaching the adult stage. They emerge as miniature mantis of around 4mm but have no wings at this point, so they rely on running and jumping away from danger.

Mantis moulted skin

In most cases, from hatching to adulthood, mating and consequent egg laying and death occurs between spring and autumn of the same year. (It is rare for an adult mantis to survive through the winter). There are however some species that pass through the winter both as oothecas and nymphs such as the Iberian endemic Apteromantis aptera which is a protected species. This means that adults and nymphs may be seen together in both spring and autumn.

List of mantis present in Spain (If the text is green you can click through for further information)
  • African Mantis – Ameles africana (spallanzania) – Mantis africana
  • Ameles assoi
  • Ameles decolor
  • Ameles picteti
  • European Dwarf Mantis – Ameles spallanzania
  • Apteromantis aptera
  • Blepharopsis mendica (Canary Islands and North Africa)
  • Geomantis larvoides
  • Iris oratoria
  • Common European “Praying Mantis” – Mantis religiosa
  • Pseudoyersinia paui
  • Pseudoyersinia canariensis
  • Rivetina baetica
  • African Mantis – Sphodromantis viridis
  • Conehead Mantis – Empusa pennata
  • Perlamantis alliberti

Mantis Predators: Bee-eater and parasitic wasp
Mantis Predators: Bee-eater and parasitic wasp

Mantis species may have a voracious appetite but sometimes they are preyed upon themselves. The left hand image shows a colourful Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) which is a summer visitor to Iberia, about to take a preying mantis into the nest tunnel to feed to its young. The image to the right has been enlarged to show a tiny parasitic wasp which uses the long ovipositor at the rear to embed its eggs inside the mantis ootheca where the larva will feed off its contents, in this case the mantis eggs involved are Apteromantis aptera.

Mantis oothcae: after emergence: after parasitic wasp emergence
Mantis oothcae: after emergence: after parasitic wasp emergence

These two images are both of common Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) oothecae. The left hand image shows pieces hanging that protect each tiny mantis inside the egg case but are shed as they exit and disperse. This was a mass emergence as there is a lot of debris, it is very fine and so will soon break away. The nymphs will always exit via the central line where there are overlaid flaps like tiles, the side walls are too solid for them to break.

The right hand image shows small holes in the side wall of the egg case, these are made by the emergence of parasitic wasps.

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Megarian banded centipede – Scolopendra cingulata – Escolopendra

Scientific: Scolopendra cingulata
English: Megarian Banded Centipede
Spanish: Escolopendra

The Megarian banded centipede – Scolopendra cingulata – Escolopendra is one of the smallest members of the scolopendra family at approximately 10-15 cm. They are easily recognised by the alternating bands of black and yellow/gold. They can be found throughout southern Europe and typically inhabit dark, damp environments such as areas beneath logs and rocks.

The head of this centipede has a pair of antennae, jaw-like mandibles, and other mouth parts. Each segment has one pair of legs. The front segment has a pair of venomous claws (called maxillipedes) that are used for both defense and for capturing and paralyzing prey. The venom is less toxic than other scolopendrid centipedes, but they are still fast moving and can be aggressive so it’s best just to look at these colourful creatures rather than try to handle them.

scolopendra cingulata-escolopendra-megarian banded centipede
Scolopendra cingulata – Escolopendra – Megarian banded centipede

They are mostly nocturnal and opportunistic carnivorous hunters, feeding on a broad variety of ground dwelling insects. Youngsters will eat crickets, or other small insects. Adults will consume almost any creature that is not larger that itself, including large crickets, other large insects, and even small lizards.

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Bearded Vulture – Gypaetus barbatus – Quebrantahuesos

  • English: Bearded Vulture
  • Spanish: Quebrantahuesos
  • Alternative names / spellings: Lammergeier, Lammergeyer, Lammergeir.
  • Catalan: Trencalòs

This is one of the largest raptors in Spain and also the rarest. It has a wingspan of 2.8 m and length of around 1.10 m. The dark, narrow wings taper to a point while the tail is long and wedge shaped. The body, legs and head are a dirty white although they deliberately stain this to a dark orange colour using iron oxides contained in calcareous rock where available. They have dark feathers around the eyes and it is the long bristles draped beside the bill which leads to the English common name of Bearded Vulture.

Bearded Vulture - Gypaetus barbatus - Quebrantahuesos
Bearded Vulture – Gypaetus barbatus – Quebrantahuesos – appeared in an official Spanishpostage stamp

They only live in high mountainous areas, usually between 500 to 4000m, preferring ledges on steep cliffs. They can be seen soaring through valleys in search for food. This can be live prey, carrion or the better known habit of breaking bones by dropping them from a great height onto rocks. This exposes the nutrient rich marrow and splinters the bone into smaller pieces which are also eaten.

These birds are very territorial, defending from 200 to 400 km2 against the presence of other adults. Sexual maturity is reached at 5 to 6 years old for females and 8 to 9 years for males. Nesting begins from mid December to January. Normally there are 2 eggs laid but all being well, only one will fledge in the June or July. Disturbances during the initial reproduction period are especially problematic, resulting in failure to raise chicks that year.

Human interference has pushed these birds to near extinction in many areas. Poisoning, power line collision or electrocution, shooting and encroachment have greatly reduced their numbers. There are protection, education, breeding and release programs in place to help support their numbers.

The Bearded Vulture was widespread through the main mountain chains of Spain until the mid 20th century, persecution had almost eradicated this raptor from its western European stronghold.

Bearded vultures in Andalusia

As recently as 1986 the last specimen disappeared from Andalucia but a reintroduction program has returned this stuning bird to the mountains of eastern Andalusia.

From 2006 to 2019 of the 60 odd individuals released in Andalusia 23 are still alive and being tracked. 19 are dead and the rest have lost their transmitors. However, 19 are confirmed alive and well from recent sightings,

In January 2021 6 pairs of bearded vultures had already nested and were sitting eggs. Great news!

The Junta de Andalucia official web page for this programme is here. (In Spanish) Plan de recuperación y conservación de aves necrófagas

There is an unoficial facebook page that has some English language updated information here.

Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture

This program has supplied food, mainly sheep limbs, during the winter months when chick survival is at a critical balance. In turn it has enabled the population to grow within the central Pyrenees and expand east and west into the provinces of Catalonia and Navarre. It is from these western populations that sub adults are once again expanding in search of new territories. They are reaching the Cantabrian mountains, especially the Picos de Europa, where projects are underway to prevent a repeat of the hunting / poisoning which eradicated them from here previously.

The “Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos” which translates to the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture are continuing with their protection and education schemes to ensure the expansion of this species.

There is an interesting Eco-museum / visitors centre at the Castle of Ainsa in the Aragon Pyrenees with information dedicated to these birds.

If you see a bearded vulture and are lucky enough to also note the colors and position of any rings or wing tags then you can identify the bird on the website of

According to their website there are 135 tagged released birds. Some have radio tracking systems whilst others are ringed and/or wing tagged. Not all the birds are accounted for so your observation is important for the continuing success of the re-introduction system

Some bearded vultures are mapped via gps and you can track their movements here…

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Esparto grass – Stipa tenacissima – esparto

In Spain, ‘esparto‘ is the common name of a grass which until well into the twentieth century had a huge importance in the economy of many towns in Spain. Making products from esparto has deep historical roots, noting that the Romans favoured this plant for its strength and versatility. It is a fine, durable and flexible grass of up to 60cm in height, native to uncultivated, dry and stony areas in central and Southern Spain and also North Africa. Its scientific name is Macrochloa tenacissima (syn. Stipa tenacissima).

Esparto grass - Stipa tenacissima - esparto
Esparto grass – Stipa tenacissima – esparto

The Spanish esparto quality exceeds that of other Mediterranean countries because it contains a higher percentage of cellulose and the fibre is much finer. The plant is referred to generally as espartera or atocha and was first used to make twine and rope for ship’s rigging, in agriculture and basketry. Areas naturally covered in tussocks of this grass are called espartales, atochares or albardinales.

During the many years of mastering skills in crafting this natural product people have added new uses, developed various styles of weaving and plaiting, each given its own name.

Esparto grass - Stipa tenacissima - esparto
Products made from esparto

Older generations of many villages still preserve the tradition of weaving objects from esparto. Historically they used this local product as there were no other choices, and from necessity they had to create shoes from it to work in the fields, holders to carry their water and lunch, baskets to collect the harvest, rugs for their floors and blinds for their windows.

We rely on them now to pass on their memories to another generation so preserving the art of weaving such versatile, and now more ornamental products, teaching others how to use the purpose made tools and to share their vocabulary and wisdom.

  • El capazo a wide circular basket to carry and store logs for the long winter evenings.
  • Los tizneros on which to place the hot cooking pots fresh from the fire.
  • Las soguillas sandals whose soles of esparto are formed by a spiral of twisted cord, then sewn into place and lined with fabric to form a shoe.
  • Garrafas forradas de pleitas de esparto bottles surrounded in woven plaits of esparto, often with handles, to protect the glass, make it easier to carry and act as insulation to the wine or water within.
  • Los serones the panniers used to carry goods on donkeys and mules.
  • La pleita a wide, plaited band of esparto – braided in groups of at least three, the greater thewidth the greater the number of strands of grass needed to make la pleita. This band could later be used to create a basket cesta, or be used as a mould to shape cheese – quesera.
Esparto chees molds
Esparto cheese molds

Initial plant growth of this grass is very slow but after its third year it is more profuse and the best stems form after it is five years old. (The quality and quantity only declining after the plant is fifty years old.) The stems are collected from June to August when the grass has matured after the spring growth period. It can be collected by hand using a bar, around which a handful of stems are wrapped and then pulled free. If harvested at the wrong time this could rip the plant’s root system and damage future growth. Pulling with a bar can damage the tips of the grass, a slower but better method is to grasp only a few strands by hand, pulling them quickly upwards. The pulled grass stems are cleaned and sorted, discarding any broken or short strands, then bundled and tied.

Esparto grass - Stipa tenacissima - esparto
La pleita, a wide, plaited band of esparto – braided in groups of at least three
  • Green Esparto: is dried in the shade to preserve its colour.
  • Golden Esparto: is dried in the sun.
  • Cured Esparto: the bundles are sun dried before being soaked in large water containers for several weeks, then dried again and beaten to soften the fibres.

Spanish esparto grass, the british Paper industry and the businessman William Mac Murry

There was a close relationship between Spanish esparto and the paper industry in the late nineteenth century, but a prominent part was also an English businessman known as William Mac Murray who is attributed a great influence in our country to be a manufacturer of wire utensils in Scotland and his company was very successful in supplying the paper industry of the whole world continuous wire mesh for paper machines. He would also become a paper manufacturer, papermaker and owner of some newspapers. In 1847 he moved to the southeast of England where he had four pulp mills. Much of the paper was made with esparto from southeastern Spain, where McMurray leased large farms for its collection, built factories where to transform it and exported it to Great Britain in its own steamboats; Due to the shortage of rags to make paper in the middle of century XIX was solved in Great Britain with the introduction of esparto as raw material.

Esparto grass in London for paper production
Esparto grass in London for paper production

The first patent to manufacture paper and paperboard with esparto was registered in England in 1839. Several paper manufacturers experimented with specific methods to obtain pulp.

From 1865 a good part of this paper was made with imported esparto from the farms that William McMurray controlled in Spain, that it climbed in barges by the river Thames from the docks of London and was unloaded in a dock Or dock at the mouth of the Wandle River, which was also owned by McMurray and became known as the McMurray Canal.

Read more here…..

Today, esparto products have been relegated more to items of ornamentation. Sadly the decline in its use has been steady since being replaced by rubber, plastic and synthetic fibres.

However, UBEDÍES ARTESANÍA is a family run business and has been devoted to manufacturing esparto crafts for four generations.

Located in the Renaissance city of Úbeda, Spain, declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Ubedíes Artesanía recovers old time products and handcraft making and their products are completely eco-friendly,

The Grazalema Guide

The best way to see all our web projects in one place is over at the Grazalema Guide.

The Grazalema Guide – Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, Wildside Holidays, The town of Ronda and the Caminito del Rey.