Some of the most beautifully camouflaged of all mantids are the Dead Leaf mantids of the genus Deroplatys, of which there are 11 described species. Together with the three species of Brancsikia, they comprise the subfamily Deroplatyinae of the vast (and in need of revision) family Mantidae. Originating from Malaysia, they are fairly typical generalist predators of various insects.
Still growing on in the breeding room at Bug World, though it is on display, is a juvenile of one of the largest of all mantids, Plistospilota guineensis. Although the one on show is still only a nymph and looks much like a Sphrodomantis, once full grown the ‘mega mantis’ will grow to 10cm long and be capable of tackling prey as large as a small mouse or lizard. Most mantids prey on insects of various sizes, but some will tackle vertebrate prey – there is an account in Gerald Durrell’s memoir of his childhood on Corfu of an epic battle between a large female Mantis religiosa and a small gecko (The gecko lost a tail in the process as I recall).
From the decidedly odd-looking Violin Mantid, this week I will discuss one of the more usual-looking mantids, the African Bush mantis Sphordromantis viridis. A native of sub-Saharan West Africa, this species is a typical generalist predator, taking insects of all kinds from crickets to butterflies. Size is no object – they will happily tackle prey nearly as big as themselves. They are not as large as some mantid species, growing around 6-8cm long.
One of the more well known of the huge variety of the worlds’ arthropods is the predatory praying mantids. Getting their English name from their habit of holding there grasping forelegs in a pose reminiscent of someone praying (I am not sure what that says about whoever gave them the name in the first place), they belong to the same group of insects, the Dictyoptera, which also includes the cockroaches and termites, although at some point in their evolutionary history they turned to a predatory lifestyle. Today they number over 2,300 species.
For the last few months we have had one of the most unusual invertebrates I have seen on display anywhere on view in Bug World, a group of Christmas Island Blue Crabs, Discoplax hirtipes. Related to the more famous (and slightly larger) Red Crab, Geocarcoidea natalis, it is one of nearly 20 species of terrestrial crab (plus 160 marine species) found on or around Christmas Island.