A month ago I wrote about finding a group of tiny just-emerged mantis nymphs. (‘Nymphs’ covers all stages of development except adults, from just-hatched to nearly fully developed.) In a footnote to that post I mentioned a larger nymph I discovered a little later. I have been observing and photographing that one and its relations (at least two more hatchings, all on a particular patch of weeds) since then and now have a reasonably complete record of their development.
First, the hatchlings (click on any photo for a larger image). They are quite different from the ones in my previous post. Most obviously, they are paler and have pairs of brown spots all the way along head and body. Also, their head is much broader than their thorax, and their typical posture is different: straddle-legged and straight-backed.
Mantises moult to move on to the next stage – the next ‘instar’ – of their development. The next stage I recognise is still completely wingless but the brown spots have faded. One or two instars later, wing buds appear; they have a faint mottling of darker green, as do the front legs. The nymphs are still straddle-legged but a new characteristic posture appears: they flatten themselves against the leaf they are on. They spend more time underneath their leaf than on top of it, at least by day.
Finally, the adult, about 20 mm long: the broad wings are translucent (note the leaf veins visible through them) and marked in a pattern of dark and light veining which resembles the pattern of the leaf itself. Around the ‘shoulder’ of each upper wing is a short row of yellowish spots, with minute black dots between them.
So what is it? Certainly a mantis (Mantodea, Mantidae) but not the common green Garden Mantid (Orthodera ministralis). It looks much more like the mantid shown here as Neomantis australis, but that one is still different in several ways: it has narrower wings, is more nearly transparent and yellower overall, and has dark eyes (which may be due to the fact that it is a photo of a dead insect). CSIRO’s (poor) photo of Neomantis australis shows an insect more like mine but with a transverse pale stripe across its wings, more like the one I saw on Hervey’s Range.
I suspect there are at least two species or sub-species amongst all these but for now I will just call my little family Neomantis australis with one or two question marks.
We’re still waiting for rain but the warmth and humidity seem to be encouraging some insects to emerge anyway. I wrote about cicadas a few days ago, and on Sunday I spotted first one, then a dozen, tiny praying mantises on the railing of our back stairs. Here’s one:
The picture is much larger than the mantis, which was only 8 – 10 mm long.
Figuring that there had to be a good reason for a group of infants to be together like that, I looked around and found their egg-case (ootheca) glued beneath the railing:
P.S. Here is an older nymph – more than twice the size – a fortnight later. I’m pretty sure it’s not one of these babies grown up, though, because it was too far away.
P.P.S. (Dec 28): The nymph I linked to now seems certain (as I have observed its development) to have been a different species of mantis from the one pictured above.
Just a little more humidity and a little more warmth are bringing the garden back to life, one creature and one flower at a time. Even since I wrote my ‘what’s around’ post a week ago I have seen more insects: another kind of dragonfly, two kinds of medium-sized grasshoppers, an Orchard Swallowtail butterfly (here is one from this time last year) and a Pale Triangle (ditto but two years ago).
And my first green mantis of the season, too. This one was about 30 mm long and is a sub-adult. Juveniles are wingless and the wings develop through successive moults, as they do in grasshoppers. The wings here are mere stubs but will cover the whole abdomen when he or she is mature.
In spite of the apparent similarities, mantids and grasshoppers are not particularly close relations. Mantids are in an Order of their own, Mantodea, while grasshoppers share Orthoptera with crickets and katydids.
At first glance I thought this was an ant – it was about the right size, at about 8-10mm long, and colour – but no, it’s a baby praying mantis. I don’t know how big it will grow, but I do know it is very young because mantises, like grasshoppers, begin life wingless and develop wings after successive moults.
Most of us familiar with a green mantis which grows to about finger length, but there are lots of others. Here is a differently-shaped green one and here is a very large brown one. Wikipedia has a good article about the family.