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June Taxonomy Fail

29 Jun

Here’s another Taxonomy Fail for your edification and/or entertainment.  I’m not sure who first mislabeled (or at least, mis-described) this image, but it pulls up on a number of blogs and sites with the erroneous story attached.

I present:

“Mantis Cannibalism Eating Mate”

…she’s eating a grasshopper.  They *are* bother orthopteroids, but I don’t think it counts.

via Web Ecoist: Three Mate-Eating Animals

May Taxonomy Fail: Everybody wants to be an ant

28 May

Here’s a fun one for my bug blooper series of mislabeled and misidentified bugs from around the interwebs.

Drumroll, please….

“Fire Ant”


This is a very cool one.  Take a close look, because I love these little guys.  This is not a fire ant.  And it’s not an ant.  This is a nifty little ant-mimicking spider.

Some very cool ecology here.  Ant mimicry is fairly widespread in the arthropod world.  In some cases it allows predators to blend in with ants–either to steal their prey or assasinate and devour the ants themselves.  In many cases, however, this mimicry serves a defensive purpose.  When you’re a centimeter long, looking like an ant makes you a bad ass.  For example, check out this ant-mimicking mantis nymph:

Nobody’s messing with him.  For more great photos check out  Up Close With Nature’s  excellent post on ant mimicry.


“Fire ant” spider via Connemara Conservancy Meadow Tour Guide

The effect of children on mantises

21 Jan
Close up on the head, eyes, and mandibles of a Carolina mantis.

Close up of a Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina).

Another close up.  This is a Carolina mantis I’ve been raising for a while.  Recently I took her along to an outreach program where we had a live insect zoo, and the kids got a huge kick out of seeing and holding a preying mantis.

Unfortunately, the mantis apparently found a pack of excited 6th grade girls a bit unnerving, and I had to put her back in her container when she started flashing her yellow hindwings in a threat display.  I have never actually managed to get a mantis to do a display for me, so it was actually pretty interesting.  Moreover, weeks later I still couldn’t come near her container without being the recipient of an immediate threat display.  (Small children are apparently just that unsettling.)

I had meant to take a picture for the blog, but Christmas break has apparently soothed her nerves sufficiently that she can be handled again without instant mantis-freak-out.

Mantis Massacre – Hand feeding a Chinese mantis

3 Dec
Adult Chinese mantis devouring a cricket.

Adult Chinese mantis devouring a cricket (Tenodera sinensis).

I promised pictures of the adult Chinese mantises from last week, so here you go.  And to start off we have some lovely horror-movie-esque imagery of a mantis tearing into its cricket meal.  Enjoy!

Hand feeding a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis).

Hand feeding a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis).

Chinese mantis taking a cricket from a pair of forceps.

Chinese mantis taking a cricket from a pair of forceps.



Mantis Montage

29 Nov
Chinese mantis first instar nymphs (Tenodera sinensis).

Chinese mantis first instar nymphs (Tenodera sinensis).

Here’s some video clips of the Chinese mantises I reared out of an egg case early this year.  I enjoyed watching them hunting fruit flies, grooming, fighting, and molting.  These are pictures of mantises in the first instar, or first molt, not long after hatching.  At this age they’re tiny and fairly vulnerable, but also fast and terrific jumpers.  I’ll include some pictures of adults in the next post.

Mantises are a lot of fun to raise as pets.  They’re low maintenance, fun to observe, and one of the more charismatic and interactive insect pets–they’ll turn their heads back and forth to watch you and even take bits of food offered with tongs.  In the spring you can find mantis egg cases (ootheca) for sale on a variety of garden websites as well as eBay.

Flower Power

7 Jun
An orchid mantis on flowers.

An mantis lurks on flowers, awaiting prey.

I found this flower mantid doing as it’s name might suggest in Argentina.  The most well known flower mantis is the Malaysian orchid mantis, a striking pink flower-mimic.  These particular flowers were buzzing with insect activity, so this mantis had found a good hunting spot.

Like many insects which lack a pupal stage (such as a cocoon or chrysalis), immature and mature mantises can be distinguished by the development of the wings. In this juvenile mantis (called a nymph), the two pairs of partially developed wings are visible as ‘wing pads’ just before the down-turned abdomen.  The wings will only be fully formed after the final shedding of the exoskeleton as the mantis achieves its final adult form.  Only adult insects have wings, although some species, such as worker ants, walking sticks, and burrowing roaches have become secondarily wingless in the adult form.

Here’s another shot.

Mantis Meal

2 Apr
A mantis with prey

A mantis munches on a struggling skipper.

The frantic fluttering of this skipper caught my eye at one of the Argentinian field sites.  The mantis that had snatched the little butterfly had only got hold of one wing, and couldn’t quite seem to manage to get her lunch under control.  After a valiant struggle, and some munching on the wing, she eventually lost her hold, leaving the mantis hungry, and the skipper crippled on the ground below.  Being a bug is not much fun.

Quite a number of insects have independently evolved raptorial forelegs for capturing their prey, but mantids (order Mantodea) are by far the most well known for this feature.  Raptorial means ‘grasping’ or ‘adapted for seizing prey’ — think of the talons of birds of prey (raptors) or those of the cunning velociraptors from Jurassic Park.  The opposable spines on the mantid’s front tibia and femur fulfill a similar purpose, and their long reach and speed make them dangerous predators in the insect world.  Mantises have even been known to lurk on hummingbird feeders and pick off the unwary bird.