Close encounter on Collserola: Dwarf mantis

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Illyrian thistles (Onopordum illyricum) are magnificent, even when all dried up.  By mid-summer their heads are like wicker baskets brimming with seeds.  When I looked inside one, something rapidly scuttled out on long thin legs, spider-like.  Then I noticed the curled abdomen, and thought it was a tiny Cone-head Mantis. But once it had stopped darting round to the opposite side of the thistle, I found its head was heart-shaped.

This female Dwarf Mantis, an Ameles species, probably A. spallanzania, has a plump curled abdomen that makes it look like a tiny rocking horse.

The mantis was minute, but just like its larger relative, it avidly monitored its surroundings and it repeatedly swivelled its head and trained its antennae in my direction.  When a colourful stink beetle walked by (Eurydema ornata), it instantly sprung from one thistle stem to another to get a better view, using the spines like the rungs on a ladder.

I wanted to stay and watch the mantis hunt, but the sun was rapidly going down. Reluctantly I left it there, a perfectly camouflaged speck on the hillside.

In the jungle – Mediterranean insects

Written by Lucy Brzoska

It’s the month of May and plants are fighting for space. In the dense, overgrown jungle roams a large yellow beast (well, 2-3 cm long). It has the silhouette of an anteater, except for those antennae sprouting out of the snout.  The Yellow Weevil eats plant matter with mouthparts at the end of its “nose”.  The length of the snout allows it to bore where other insects can’t reach.

yellow-weevil-in-thistle-lixus-pulverulentus

Two Longhorned beetles mate, antennae mingling.  They look a bit like chamois, except their “horns” are flexible and longer than their own bodies.

longhorn-beetles-mating-agapantia-cardui-suturalis

Flowers are for eating – this pollen-consuming jewel beetle (Anthaxia hungarica) is attracted to Compositae . . . .

anthaxia-hungarica-jewel-beetle

. . . . or for lurking in.  A napoleon crab spider, sprinkled with pollen, waits to ambush its prey.  It’s common to see the lifeless form of  a bee hanging from a flower, as the spider sucks it dry.  Sometimes the venom takes a while to work, and the spider clings on, going for a flight with its victim, not knowing where it will land.

napolon-crab-spider-synaema-globosum-covered-in-pollen

The vibrancy of this Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea didyma) reminded me of a tiger. On this windless cloudy day, the butterfly remained motionless.

spotted-fritillary-melitaea-didyma

Zooming in on Montjuic (iv): early insects

Written by Lucy Brzoska

It was the first really warm day in February and quantities of Hummingbird Hawkmoths (Macroglossum stellatarum) were restlessly hovering in front of the castle wall, as if searching for something. They engage in this mysterious activity every year when they reappear at the end of winter. I spotted one sitting quietly, something apparently rare, but who knows how many others there were, flattened on the wall, blending in with beige-grey wings and just a hint of iridescence.

hummingbird-hawkmoth-sunbathing-on-wall

When a Hummingbird Hawkmoth feeds, it slings in its lengthy proboscis from a distance.  Not so the Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa violacea), who hugs the flower close. These gentle giants were also out in numbers, bumping into each other around the Common Borage. Their wings are brown like old film negatives, until the light catches them and they turn blue. The males signal their sex with orange antennae tips.

carpenter-bee-xylocopa-violacea-showing-blue-wings

Judging by the constant rustle of Chiffchaffs in the small evergreen oaks by the castle, there were plenty of small bugs to feast on.  They were being deftly picked off the leaves or snapped up mid-flight as the restless birds forayed out of the trees to retrieve them.

chiffchaff-picking-off-bugs

Natur-al-Andalus has an interesting post on Chiffchaffs, whose hovering skills allow them to exploit the nectar of extensions of introduced South African aloe that bloom in the mild Gibraltan winters.

Autumn Bugs: hide and seek

At the road side near Vallvidrera, a cellulose gymnast was swinging through the stems. If you’ve grown up thinking of Stick insects as exotic pets kept in glass containers, it’s a thrill to find them ranging free. They look fragile, but can re-grow a damaged limb after a moult.

Another plant imitator, the Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa), is quite visible in Collserola in October. Like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, this elegant specimen couldn’t take its eyes away from the camera.

The black spots, which look eerily like pupils, are an effect of light reflecting from the compound eyes. The mantis also has three “simple” eyes between the antennae that act as an auxilliary light metre. With its swivelling neck and stereoscopic vision, there’s not much that goes on unnoticed around a Praying mantis.

From camouflage to aposematism – currently every Wild carrot nest has a Striped shieldbug (Graphosoma lineatum) inside. Experiments have confirmed that the colouring of these bugs helps predators remember their bad taste. As if testing out the theory themselves, they are often in prominent positions on the top of plants.

Its vivid red and black colouring probably saved this Firebug (Pyrrhocoris apterus) in Palau de Pedralbes park. Climbing up the rocks, it stumbled onto a sunbathing Wall lizard. After assessing the situation, it hurriedly changed direction. The lizard watched, but made no move.