Category Archives: Insects of Spain

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.

https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/andalusian-funnel-web-spider-macrothele-calpeiana-la-arana-negra-de-los-alcornocales/
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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Black-veined White – Aporia crataegi – Blanca del Majuelo

  • Family: Pieridae
  • Scientific name: Aporia crataegi
  • English common name: Black-veined White
  • Spanish common name: Blanca del Majuelo
  • Portuguese common name: Borboleta do pilriteiro

The Black-veined White – Aporia crataegi – Blanca del Majuelo is a fairly large butterfly, easily recognised by the black veining on a white background, with no spots. The female has a slightly softer brown colour to the veins. Groups can be found feeding on flowers near to their caterpillar food plants of hawthorns and also around orchards of Prunus species.

Aporia crataegi- Blanco del Majuelo-Black-veined White
Aporia crataegi- Blanco del Majuelo-Black-veined White is easily recognised by the black veining on a white background

The caterpillars of this species can grow up to 4cm long, they are black with orange spots and a white horizontal line above the legs, covered with many white hairs. The caterpillars of this species survive over winter within the protection of woven nests.

Wing size: 56-68mm
Altitude: 500-2000m
Flight time: April-July
Over-wintering: Young caterpillars in a communal woven nest
Caterpillar food plant: Crataegus, Prunus, Malus, Pyrus, Sorbus
Distribution: Widespread through most of Europe

Similar species: Clouded Apollo (Parnassius mnemosyne) but this species has two large black spots on the forewing.

Above images from the Sierra de Grazalema, Andalusia



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Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) Macaon

The swallowtail is a large and brightly coloured butterfly which is easily recognised. The main colour on upper and under wings is yellow with bands and veins of black. On closer inspection there are blue markings and a pair of red spots on the hindwing. The tail streamers are where it gained the common name, although occasionally one or both may have broken off.

Papilio machaon-Macaon-Swallowtail egg
Papilio machaon-Macaon-Swallowtail egg
Papilio machaon-Macaon-Swallowtail caterpillar
Papilio machaon-Macaon-Swallowtail caterpillar

The caterpillars of this species can be up to 5cm long. They have a glandular defense system against predation. On their necks is hidden a fork of brightly coloured retractable flesh, when raised this emits a foul smell to deter predators.

Papilio machaon-Macaon-Swallowtail1
Papilio machaon-Macaon-Swallowtail. These majestic insects often stop to feed on garden flowers allowing for a closer view.
  • Family: Papilionidae
  • Scientific name: Papilio machaon
  • English common name: Swallowtail
  • Spanish common name: Macaon
  • Portuguese common name: Makaon
  • Wing size: 64-100mm
  • Altitude: sea level to 3000m
  • Flight time: February-October in two to three broods
  • Over-wintering: Chrysalis
  • Caterpillar food plant: Many Umbellifers: Wild carrot, Fennel and Rue families.
  • Distribution: Widespread over much of Europe and Asia. North Africa and North America.

Similar species: Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) which has a paler cream base colour and the black markings are reminiscent of zebra stripes.


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