Category Archives: Mantis

Cone-head mantis – Empusa pennata – Mantis palo

  • Family: Empusidae
  • English: Cone head mantis
  • Scientific: Empusa pennata
  • Spanish: Mantis palo
Cone-head Mantis (Empusa pennata) Nymph in April and adult female
The unmistakeable feather and cone of Empusa pennata

The Cone-head mantis – Empusa pennata – Mantis palo, although similar in size to the common European Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa), is easily distinguished by the protrusion from its crown. Both male and females, even from first hatching carry this tall extension giving them a very alien appearance. They live in areas that are warm and dry and use their cryptic colouring of either greens and pinks or various shades of brown to keep them hidden from predators. The female may grow to a length of 10cm while the male is shorter and slimmer. The male has distinctive ‘feather’ type antennae as shown on the image above.

Cone-head mantis - Empusa pennata - Mantis palo
Can you find this well hidden cone head mantis?

They live and hide within rough grass and annual flowering plants from which they hunt small insects. As with other forms of mantis most food is gathered in a very patient manner. Poised by a flower, using their colours for camouflage, they use four legs to hold the position whilst the front legs are held up and folded. They swivel their heads and use binocular vision to locate small flying insects and then grab it from the air impaling it onto the serrations of the forelimbs so that it cannot escape. Eating the head and neck first is a way to ensure that the prey does not struggle.

They will often rest upside down as seen in the image below-right, of an adult female, the image was taken in early June just after she laid the ootheca.

Cone-head mantis - Empusa pennata - Mantis palo
Cone-head Mantis (Empusa pennata) Nymph in April and adult female
Life cycle of the Cone-head mantis – Empusa pennata – Mantis palo

The life cycle of a Conehead Mantis (Empusa pennata) is unusual amongst the European mantids as it hatches in the summer time, remains as a nymph through the winter and does not reach adulthood until the following spring. The ootheca (egg case) is attached to a plant stem and contains around 30 eggs. When the temperatures are right the tiny (1cm) nymphs all hatch at the same time and quickly disperse. From this point until mating in the following year they lead a solitary life.

Cone-head mantis - Empusa pennata - Mantis palo
Cone-head Mantis (Empusa pennata) ootheca and just hatched nymph

This ootheca with its distinctive shape, colour and ‘thread’ was laid on the 5th June on a thistle stem and the nymph is shown on the day of hatching 9th July. These images are taken of wild mantis in Andalucía, Southern Spain.

(A similar coloured mantis Empusa fasciata exists further east around the Mediterranean but does not occur in Iberia.)

More general information and images on Mantises and a list of the species within Iberia here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/mantis-in-iberia/

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Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) -Insecto de Santa Teresa

  • Family: Mantidae
  • Scientific: Mantis religiosa
  • English: Praying Mantis (America: European Mantis)
  • Spanish: Insecto de Santa Teresa

Mantises, in general, are often mistakenly referred to as “Praying Mantis” but this is the English name for just one species, Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)- Insecto de Santa Teresa, the most common species in Europe.

Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) - Insecto de Santa Teresa
Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) -Insecto de Santa Teresa – ooteca (egg sac)

These solitary insects can grow to a length of around 8cm males / 12cm females and are usually either green or light brown in colour. When they hatch out from the ootheca or egg case during spring and early summer they are only about 4mm in length, wingless, very agile and able to feed on small flies, leafhoppers and aphids.

Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) - Insecto de Santa Teresa
Mantis religiosa nymph – Smaller than a fingernail

After hatching, it is necessary to disperse quickly in order to prevent cannibalism by the siblings (as many as 300). They will undergo six moults over the course of the summer before reaching full adult and reproductive age in the early autumn.

Once they have reached adult size the wings will develop, on this species they completely cover the body and this is one way of distinguishing them from other species. Another feature is an eye spot on the inner side of the upper foreleg. These can be used to startle and confuse would-be predators as the mantis raises its forelegs holding them outwards to display these markings at the same time as lifting and flapping its wings.

Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) - Insecto de Santa Teresa
Mantis religiosa male and female mating – Note the different colors and the much smaller male

The males are slender whereas the females have a more bulky appearance. Males will fly to discover a mate and a female may copulate with more than one male.

Soon after copulation the female searches out a site to lay her eggs. This may be on plant material, on a rock or on a building, she may lay two to five oothecas (egg-cases) with between 40 to 300 eggs in each. The male and female will die during the winter but the ootheca forms a hardened shell and will protect the several hundred eggs within until they are ready to hatch as the temperatures rise the following spring.

They wait patiently amongst plants with their front legs folded as if in “prayer”, then grab insects from the air with amazing speed. Generally the prey cannot escape as it is impaled on the foreleg spikes, but to be sure they tend to eat the head and neck first thus immobilising it. All parts of the bumble bee in the photo were eaten, including the wings, legs and fur. If any part is dropped then it is abandoned.

Mantises have highly adapted sensory ability, unusual within the insect world are their large compound eyes with binocular vision and ability to rotate their heads to see around nearly 300º. They have antennae which are used for smell and research has shown that they can detect echolocation of bats via a single ear and spiral out of the air in order to avoid being eaten.

Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) - Insecto de Santa Teresa
Mantis religiosa female – A very dark brown coloration

Praying Mantis were accidentally introduced into North America in 1899 on nursery stock plants from southern Europe, their predatory skills were soon appreciated. They have since naturalised and are actively encouraged as pest control for agriculture. However, the mantis doesn’t know the difference so as well as eating insects that could damage crops they will also take beneficial ones such as honey bees.

See more mantis species in Spain here


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