Cone-head mantis - Empusa pennata - Mantis palo

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:

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