There are many impressive flying insects on the wing during the summer months. Some due to their colours or intricate design and others are just large.
In this last category fall the Carpenter bee, the Hornet, the thread wasted and the Mammoth wasps.
Many people flap their arm in fear at these airborne creatures whereas standing still and observing them may be better practice, they are generally docile and quite attractive if viewed calmly. (Unless you are poking the hornets nest of course!)
The first Hornet activity this year out in the garden was in early spring. Several were actively hunting for bees which I would presume to be the newly hatched queens as all but the breeding hornets are vegetarian. They flew around the almond trees with heavily scented blossom and plucked honey bees out of the air.
They took the fresh prey to a nearby branch (gory bit – dissected and dropped the head) and devoured their meal. Hornets create a new hive each year from scratch, starting with a single queen.
Just click the Insect image title to read more about each insect over at the Grazalema Guide website.
imagine a bumble bee, double its size, paint it jet black in your mind’s eye and give it iridescent blue / violet wings. They are large, noisy, weigh down flowers with their bulk but can deftly avoid humans with their lumbered flight. If they enter the house it is usually to search for a suitable nest hole. They are solitary creatures and gained their common name due to their ability to make nest holes in dead would. Although they can do this they take the easier option of ready made holes in wood, metal, brick etc whenever possible.
A long black insect with two yellow stripes on the abdomen and a yellow face if female. This has a complicated lifecycle as the Mammoth wasp parasitizes a beetle larva. At the moment there are 6 or more flying around each large rotten tree stump in the garden. They all seem to be males and are probably waiting for the females to emerge. Later in the summer, when they have settled down they are much easier to observe feeding off flowers, with alliums being a favourite.
Wasp like with yellow / black colours these creatures are also people friendly. They search out shaded, protected places to create their mud nests and the back of a picture frame seems an ideal choice. They carefully roll up a tiny ball of mud outside, fly with it into the house, deposit it, shape it and return with more tirelessly throughout the day. They produce a hollow tube and next to this they make another and another fanning the wet mud with their wings to assist the drying process.
Bees and wasps may receive bad press and cause unnecessary concern to many, especially as some of the species of Iberia can be rather large.
Hornets were once common throughout Europe but are suffering decline due to the misconception that such a large wasp type creature would have a very dangerous sting. The fact is, they are no worse than a normal wasp sting, will again avoid human closeness and they have a fascinating life cycle.
We must not forget that this group are important pollinators of our crops. Also some wasps feed on caterpillars that may otherwise be a garden pest and flies do a necessary job of clearing up decaying matter.
Altogether they aid the biodiversity that is delicately balanced to a level beyond our perception.
The Grazalema Guide – Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, The town of Ronda and the Caminito del Rey.
Scientific: Berberomeloe majalis (Linnaeus, 1758) also Meloe majalis
English: Red-striped Oil Beetle (Blister Beetle)
Spanish: Curita / Aceitera
Family Carabidae (Ground Beetles)
Distribution: Most of Iberia, Southern France and the coastal fringe of North Africa
The Red-striped Oil Beetle – Berberomeloe majalis – Aceitera can reach a length of 6 cm. The basic colour is black with a red or orange stripe crossing each body segment. With the legs positioned towards the front of the body the cylindrical abdomen is dragged along the ground. There are tiny elytra on the thorax but this beetle is unable to fly.
Update May 2021
The scientists that seemingly never sleep have now decided that there are many more species (sub species?) of blister beetle in Spain. they have been named in accordance to cultural and local customs so…
Berberomeloe castuo is found in Extremadura and is named after the local Extremeño accent “el castuo”.
Berberomeloe comunero is named after the historic uprisings in Castilla.
Berberomeloe indalo after the Neolithic rock figure of the Indalo in Almeria
Berberomeloe payoya in Cádiz and Malaga, named after the goat that produces milk to create the payoyo cheese.
The deep black coloration of the specimens from the peaks of Sierra Nevada and Filabres are now Berberomeloe tenebrosus.
In Morocco, Berberomeloe yebli is named after the inhabitants and culture of Yebala
The full scientific article can be found here: https://academic.oup.com/zoolinnean/article/189/4/1249/5714599
These large beetles tend to be localized and can often be seen in groups in the spring if the habitat is favourable. They live on sandy soils with mixed grasses and sparse scrub in woods and orchards or more open terrain. The female is much larger than the male with the shape and colouration being the same. A male will follow a female persistently until he is accepted as a mate.
After copulation the female will lay thousands of eggs in the ground in the vicinity of solitary bees. The elongated hatched larvae climb up to a flower. Here they await a bee. It must be a solitary bee and with their strong claws they hitch a ride back to the bee’s nest.
Once inside the nest a host egg is consumed and the beetle larva takes up residence in the cell. They continue to grow by feeding on the food mass stored for the bee pupa.
Many eggs are laid by the female but few will reach maturity due to the complex combination of events that will place it in a bee’s nest where it may grow and complete its transformation. If a larva accidentally selects a honey bee as host, it dies in the hive
When fully matured they leave the bees nest and as an adult are herbivores, feeding on different plant leaves and flowers.
If these adult beetles feel threatened a defense mechanism is to secrete an oily substance that is toxic, hence the common English name. This liquid can cause skin to blister and will be very painful if it makes contact with your eyes.
In the coastal areas of Murcia, Almeria and Granada there is another species which is endemic to this small part of Spain, Berberomeloe insignis. The shape and size are similar but this species is completely black over its body with two or three red patches on its head only.
At present, their survival is seriously threatened by housing developments, golf courses and greenhouses. The first two have drastically reduced the size of their habitat, while the heavy use of pesticides for intensive crops under plastic appears to have severely damaged the fauna of wild bees in the region, on whose nests the larvae of Berberomeloe depend.
The Spanish common names are many, the two most used are:
Curita – used in Andalusia for its resemblance to the look of seminary students who historically wore black cassocks with a red waist band.
Aceitera – as they are capable of releasing a toxic and oily liquid, containing cantharidin.
A few comments about this beetle
written by Stephen Daly, December 02, 2008 Hi All! One of the more curious rural stories about the use of this particular insect was told to me one day several years ago by an Andaluccian farmer, near where we live. He had kept cattle all his life and said that in order to stop the calves taking it’s mothers milk, they would smear some oil beetles on the udder and teats of the cow. He told me that the calf would only try this once – never attempting this again so foul is the taste! I did have some thoughts for the poor beetles as well! … written by Paulo, February 05, 2009 The portuguese name that is used in the Alentejo region is “vaca-loira”. … written by Admin, February 05, 2009 That’s a great story Stephen, thanks
And thank you to Paulo for the Alentejo name of this interesting little bug…. Do you know why it has this name? I get “Vaca” meaning “cow” but Loira I looked up in a dictionary and it said this meant “Blonde” or “pale”
Why would it be called a “blonde cow” ? … written by Paulo, February 06, 2009 Indeed, you got the meaning right: it does mean blonde cow in portuguese. I don’t know exactly where that name comes from, but I would guess the “yellow (loira)” part would either derive from the orange stripes or would be phonetically derived from “louca” (I have also seen this name being used: “vaca-louca”, mad cow), perhaps due to its extreme defense mechanism. … written by Louise , June 13, 2009 We live adjacent to a golf course in Alcaidesa, Southern Spain and we recently came across this unusual creature. We googled its description and found it in this chain discussion. Does anyone know whether this beetle originates from this area or did it migrate from elsewhere.
Given that we have only seen one does this mean that there will be larger numbers in the vicinity?
Louise … written by Anthea, June 20, 2009 Last year I found many of these wonderful, curious red-striped creatures, at the end of March, in the countryside near Asilah, south of Tangier in Morocco. Perhaps this accounts for the berber part of berbermeloe majalis. Do they turn into something else or is that it?
Anthea … written by Dean Adams, September 04, 2009 Hi I visited Andulacia this year at the end of May and beginning of June and saw this beetle in several locations including the Wolf Park near Antequera, Laguna de Fuente de Piedra and at Saydo Park near Mollina. The beetles seem fearless, bold as brass, no doubt because of their noxious chemical protection. Thank you for providing a positive id of what type of oil beetle it is. I took photos, let me know if they are of any use. Dean … written by Sally, May 04, 2010 These are common between Novo Sancti Petri and Roche (on the coast south of Cadiz in Andalucia) – they’re certainly completely unconcerned about their safety, now I know why! I’m guessing any cow that had these things smeared on her udders probably would be pretty mad – and who could blame her!! And I’m very grateful to Scott Fessey at Bristol Zoo in the UK who kindly guided me to this website when I sent him a photo and asked him to identify the beetle. Thanks Scott 😀 … written by Richard Thomas, February 03, 2011 I have seen B. insignis almost literally on the border of Granada and Malaga provinces (about 10km from the sea and at c. 1000m altitude in the Sierra de Almijarra), so it’s a fair bet that they are found in MA as well as MU, AL & GR. And it was this website that enabled me to identify it: thank you. … written by Kjellin, March 25, 2011 We have also the Aceitera in Murcia, but not with the red stripes. … written by Kris Fosdike, April 19, 2011 Saw the female Aceitera hotly persued ( seemed liked stuck)by a male in the mountain above Montecorto, in the Serrania de Ronda on this Palm Sunday, 17th April 2011. Both had 6 bright red/orange stripes. They were walking across the camino. Both were about 60mm, so fully grown I’d guess. Wonderful sight, but had to indentify them. Glad I found this site. … written by Andrew jones, May 13, 2011 I have just returned from a holiday in Portugal and we saw many of these creatures in exactly the terrain described near a fabulous group of standing stones just outside Evora in the Alentejo. It was correctly identified by my friend Desmond from a photo I took with one in my hand – had I known the possible consequences of physical contact with this extraordinary beast I might have been less bold, but then I wouldn’t have got the picture nor known what it was! No harmful effects to date! If anyone would like to see my photo I’d be happy to send it. … written by Karen Henderson, May 17, 2011 I live in inland Alicante in the mountain region of Pinoso. My son and I saw one of these red-striped beetles for the first time in four years of living in this area. It was crossing a tarmac road surrounded by scrub land. It was large enough for us to notice it from the car so we stopped to have a closer look. It was at least 6cm long, if not a little more. Luckily we weren’t tempted to touch it as we weren’t sure what it was!
Iberia Nature Forum
Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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 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.
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.