An introduction to the Mantids found in Sevilla, Spain
A photograph of the Praying mantis Empusa egena (previously Empusa pennata).
Photograph by Luis Nunes Alberto, used under GFDL
Winner of the Hammond Award 2008
At the time of writing this article - towards the end of November 2007 - I am rearing livestock from two species of mantis. There are two half grown nymphs of Empusa egena = E. pennata feeding on small flies, mostly of the genus Musca. I also have an adult female Mantis religiosa which eats just about anything that moves she even attacks my finger when she has the chance. To date she has laid four batches of eggs and devoured two males in the process!
From my first holiday in this area of Spain in September 1997, I have been aware of these interesting insects and have often seen a large green mantis either flying across the land or crawling up a plant or a wall in search of prey. Whilst I knew that there were, in total, several species of the group in Spain, I had assumed that all these big green insects were of the same species, the ubiquitous Mantis religiosa.
However, since moving here in December 2004, I have had more time to investigate the local scene and to check the identification of the specimens that I have come across. I should say that whilst mantids are frequently encountered, it would be wrong to say that any species is actually plentiful here except when the nymphs of one or other of the more conspicuous species reach maturity. Then, over a period of a week or so, perhaps ten or so adult specimens of the same species will be seen in the garden, the road and the local countryside. For most of the year we have at least one specimen living happily on the flowering plants in the garden in addition to any livestock that I am rearing in my room upstairs.
Writing in 1910, Malcolm Burr describes 13 species of mantis from Western Europe of which he records 12 from Spain (the other species he knew only from France). Of these 12, he gives localities in southern Spain for seven species, whilst the remaining five were known from areas north of here. From my own studies I can say that at least one of the species from Central Spain is now established down here in the South - so we now have eight of his 12 species to look out for. Michael Chinery says that about 18 species reach south or central parts of Western Europe and he goes on to give brief descriptions of nine of them. Perhaps all but one of these will be found in Spain if not actually as far south as the area in which I now reside. Of course, I live well inland from the coast so any species seeking very green or coastal habitats is unlikely to turn up here.
I will now work my way through the various species beginning with the largest and working down to the smaller ones at the end of this article. As I have already said, I had assumed that when I saw a large green mantis it was an example of M. religiosa. However, during a Christmas holiday with friends in the nearby village of La Mezquitilla, I was walking in their garden on 25 December 2002 when I noticed what looked like an isolated curled-up green leaf on the roof of an outbuilding. Closer examination revealed that it was actually a dead green mantis. From its bulk and overall length of well over 70mm, it looked to be far too big for this species, and so it was to prove. By using Malcolm Burr's book to "key it out" I quickly realised that this was a female of the African and Asiatic species, Hierodula bioculata Burmeister, which, according to Burr, has been established in Spain for at least a hundred years, being reported from the Andalusian Provinces of Cadiz, Malaga and Sevilla. On referring to my collection I realised that my other green mantids found previously in this area of Spain were all of this species. In addition to the size, this species can also be identified by the conspicuous opaque yellow stigma on the elytra. Since living over here, I have come across the odd specimen of this species, including a dead male found in our road on 2 October 2006. This species is not mentioned in Michael Chinery's book.
By size, the next species to be discussed is, indeed, Mantis religiosa Linnaeus. This is, according to both Burr and Chinery, the commonest European species, being found throughout the Iberian Peninsula. There are two colour forms, the pale green is more usual but there is also a brown one. Chinery gives the time of appearance of the adult as July to November but Burr only specifies September and October. I found my first specimen - a very dark brown female - in La Mezquitilla on 18 December 2004. During 2005 and 2006 the odd pale brown specimen turned up in my garden or the countryside nearby, but I never saw a green one in either year. Even in 2007, it was only the pale brown form that came to my notice and by the end of September I had more or less made up my mind that perhaps only this form was to be found here because there is little in the way of green vegetation in this dry area by the time the adults appear. Then, on the morning of 5 October 2007, I found two males on the wall of my house. One was of a very pale yellowish brown colour and the other was pale green. A further green male appeared the following morning and was eventually eaten during mating - see the first paragraph of this article. Other specimens seen subsequently this year have been of the pale brown form and I have still not seen a green female. Perhaps next year?
Now we come to the easily recognised Empusa egena Charpentier (= pennata in Chinery). This is another green species but has a distinct and peculiar tall crest on the head, a very long and narrow thorax and pronounced lobes on the mid and hind legs and abdomen. In addition, the males have prominent feathery antennae. Burr gives the Provinces of Granada and Malaga as locations in southern Spain whereas Chinery refers to it being found in South-west Europe. Adults first appear in May and then throughout the summer months. Unlike those of the other Spanish mantids, the nymphs hatch in the summer, feeding through the autumn and occasionally during the winter before completing their development in the spring. They appear to eat only small flies and I have reared them very successfully on Musca species which are easy enough to find - each mantis eating two or three each day in the autumn and spring. Larger flies or other insects such as micro moths are ignored. The first time I found this species was during the morning of 17 May 2006, a rather windy day. I was walking home from the village and reaching the top of my road when I noticed a "small ball of grass" being blown up the road towards me. A sudden lull in the wind allowed said "ball" to land at my feet, whereupon it began to walk away! Once I had picked it up I realised that I had a fine male specimen of another species of mantis to add to my local list. Since then, adults and nymphs have been present almost continuously in my garden. I have yet to find it in the countryside. There is also a brown form but the only adults I have found or reared have been green.
Next up is another very distinct species, Iris oratoria Linnaeus. This is a really beautiful mantis with eyespots on the hind wings. Burr, in 1910, says that in Spain it only occurs in the centre and the north. I first found it when I rescued a female from a swimming pool in La Mezquitilla during a holiday on 21 September 1997. She laid two batches of eggs but no nymphs ever hatched out. During other holidays taken in subsequent Septembers, this species was a regular but never common visitor to my friends' garden. However, since moving here, I have never found it in the local countryside and the only time it appeared in our garden was on 19 August 2006. Two egg masses, from which the nymphs had already hatched, found on waste ground near the village of Sesmarias, Algarve, Portugal on 16 and 19 May 1995 could well be of this species.
Another species with eye-spots is Fischeria baetica Rambur (= Rivertina baetica in Chinery), although the wings in the female are truncated. As Burr gives my nearest locality as the Province of Malaga and all his other Spanish locations are on the coasts this could be another species that will not be found up here.
We now come to the other mantids which, as a group, are all medium to small and often indistinct species. Discothera tunetana Fin and Bonnet, is not mentioned by Chinery, but Burr says that it was discovered in Tunis by Dr Bonnet. Pantel has taken it among stones on dry hills near Ucles in the Province of Cuenca, in central Spain - southeast of Madrid. Sanchez Gomez found it at Cartagena which is on the coast in the Province of Murcia - well east of here. These are two widely different localities so, perhaps, it will turn up here on one of the local hillsides on day.
Geomantis larvoides Pantel, as the specific name suggests, resembles a nymph even when adult. Indeed, when Pantel first discovered it in Ucles and Sitio (I have no record of this locality in my current Spanish Directory but Burr says it is in central Spain) he thought his specimens were nymphs of F. baetica. I have yet to come across this species but will keep an eye out for it in the future.
According to Chinery there are several members of the genus Ameles to be found in southern Europe but Burr only gives two as occurring in Spain. He says that Ameles decolor Charpentier is found in Spain at Guadalajara (right in the centre, only a few kilometres from Madrid) and in the Provinces of Barcelona, Malaga and Valencia (all of which are on the coast). No sign of it yet around here!
A photograph of the Praying mantis Ameles decolor.
A. abjecta Cyrillo (= brevis Ramhur = spallanzania Auctt.) is said by Burr to be found throughout the Iberian peninsula. He says that the female is easy to distinguish from other members of the genus because of its dilated abdomen. I first came across it when I found a female in the swimming pool of a friend on 17 September 2001. My second encounter was rather interesting and occurred on the afternoon of 30 October 2007. I was on a walk in the local countryside and noticed an Egyptian Grasshopper (Anacridium aegyptium Linnaeus) resting on the top of a small bush and clearly undergoing its final nymphal moult. I left it where it was but, when returning by the same bush an hour or two later, was surprised to see that it was being eaten by another female example of this mantis. I brought both the grasshopper and mantis home and the latter continued with its feast for next couple of days, by which time the grasshopper was dead, having failed to complete the moult. Subsequently, I fed the mantis on a varied diet of flies and moths, all of which it rapidly caught and devoured. On 17 November 2007, it laid two small batches of eggs on the underside of an ivy leaf, then ate further flies until dying five days later. If I have any success with the rearing of this species I will include details in a later article.
Parameles assoi and Parameles nana
Burr describes two species from the genus Parameles and says that both of them are found in Spain. Parameles assoi Bolivar is, he says, restricted to central Spain and he gives the Provinces of Madrid, Cuenca and Toledo as localities, whereas P. nana Charpentier is a species restricted to the coastal Provinces of Andalucia. Neither of these species is mentioned by Chinery and it seems very unlikely that either of them will be found near here.
The only other mantids described by Burr are two species from the genus Yersinia but there is no mention of them in Chinery. Of these two species, Yersinia brevipennis Yersin is said to be restricted to the Hyeres district of France.
The other species, Y. aptera Yersin, is said by Burr to be restricted to the area around the town of Brunete just to the west of Madrid and to the Province of Ciudad Real which is an area south of Madrid on the road to Cordoba. Thus, at the time he wrote his book, this mantis was only found in central Spain and I did not expect to find it down here in the south of the country. However, I found a small mantis nymph with very pointed eyes in the fields just to the south of our village on 26 April 2005 and managed to rear it on small flies until it reached maturity on 25 July of that year. Then, on 20 November 2006 I came across another small nymph in the same area and managed to rear it on small flies but it died before its final moult on 2 February 2007. I was then able to identify both specimens as males of this species. To confirm that it is at least more or less established here, I found a female nymph on 30 March 2007 and reared this on flies until it died on 16 May of that year. My aim now is to rear this species more successfully in the future and I will include further information in a future article.
Chinery includes another species of mantis, Perlamantis alliberti (no mention of the author) in his book and says that it is to be found amid rough vegetation in South West Europe. Whether this species is found in Spain I do not know and, as yet, I have not come across it - if I do then I will include the relevant information in a future article.
I hope that readers will have found this account of the local mantids to be of interest.
Burr, Malcolm. 1910. A Synopsis of the Orthoptera of Western Europe pp 18-23. Oliver Janson. London.
Chinery, Michael. 2000. Collins Pocket Guide to Insects of Britain and West Europe pp 62-65. HarperCollins. London.
Keen, David. 2006. Letter from Spain - third of a series - our first summer in the sun. The Bulletin of the Amateur Entomologists' Society, 65 (469) 251-52.
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