Tag Archives: Insects of Spain

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.


Iberia Nature Forum

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

Iberia Nature Forum: https://iberianatureforum.com/

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.


Iberia Nature Forum

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

Iberia Nature Forum: https://iberianatureforum.com/

Impressive summer insects on the wing

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.


Carpenter bees

Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa violacea) Abeja azul de la maderaCarpenter Bees (Xylocopa violacea) Abeja azul de la madera
Do not be alarmed by their size of up to 23mm, they are not aggressive and will simply go about their business of collecting nectar from flowers

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.


The Mammoth wasp

Mammoth Wasp – (Megascolia (Regiscolia / maculata flavifrons) – Avispa parasita de cuatro puntas
They hold no danger to humans despite their size and black / yellow warning colours. They feed eagerly on flower nectar and this is the best time to view them.

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.


Thread-waisted wasp

Thread-waisted Wasp (Sceliphron spirifex)Thread-waisted Wasp (Sceliphron spirifex)
Sceliphron spirifex are solitary wasps and are not aggressive, they do not sting unless mishandled. The sexes look very similar with the female being larger and with a visible sting.

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

Hornets behave in a social manner, creating a nesting colony which thrives and dies in just one year life cycle.
Hornets behave in a social manner, creating a nesting colony which thrives and dies in just one year life cycle.

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.

http://grazalemaguide.com/