Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mantidae (part 2)

Thanks to Student Doctor Inna, I now have the female counterpart of the European Mantis. I thought I would post the photos in comparison, as well as provide more information about this species. The female is more drab colored, a golden brown/olive green almost - most likely for better camouflage. Also, she is about twice the size of the male mantis. I waited a day before preparing her for pinning, and the jar became coated with a slick pungent liquid - possibly pheromones. This is the first non-Lepidopteran I am pinning using the spreading board, so hopefully she will come out looking fantastic!

Mantodea; Mantidae; Mantis religiosa (female)
Common Name: European Mantis

M. religiosa originated in southern Europe, hence the common name. It was accidentally introduced to North America on nursery stock. They are now found across the United States, and are most easily identified by a dark spot on the inner side of their fore coxae. The female's spot is entirely black, but the male's has a white spot with a black outline. M. religiosa is the state insect of Connecticut. It is also good to note that when in Europe, it is simply called a praying mantis, in the same way that Brazil nuts in Brazil are simply called nuts.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Even though I have never posted about Noctuidae, I have several specimens - and this is the newest. Turns out it is a rather distinct, easily identifiable specimen - its copper-pink-orange hind wings are diagnostic of one or two Copper Underwing species. There is some disagreement. Many sources identify a second Copper Underwing as A. berbera. A. berbera and A. pyramidoides are very similar in appearance, but A. pyramidoides is found primarily on the east coasts of the US whereas A. berbera is common on the west coast. Also, A. berbera has a more uniform color on the hindwing, while A. pyramidoides has a dark margin. and a pale center The subfamily Amphipyrinae is not extremely diverse, containing only one genus Amphipyra, and four or five species: A. berbera (?), A. brunneoatra, A. glabella, A. pyramidoides, and A. tragoponiginis. It used to be a larger subfamily, but the other genera were transferred to Hadeninae and Noctuinae. The genus Amphipyra feeds on leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs, including Sycamore Maple, Oak, and Willow. It is most commonly seen at night from July-September.

Lepidoptera; Noctuoidea; Noctuidae; Amphipyrinae; Amphipyra berbera / Amphipyra pyramidoides
Common Name: Svensson's Copper Underwing

The family Noctuidae, or Owlet Moths, are medium-sized, bulky moths with mottled brown-gray colorations. They are common across the US and are the largest family of Lepidoptera, with at least 4,200 genera. The adults feed on nectar and sugary compounds, flying mostly at night. The larvae inhabit a variety of environments. Some, the "cutworms" inhabit soil and feed on plant roots, proving to be pests. Others are unusual in their ability to feed on plants containing normally toxic chemicals, like Solanaceae, the family of flowering plants that includes nightshade, tomatoes, and tobacco.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Finally I have a member of the order Mantodea! There are only two North American families: Mantidae, which contains the majority of the species, and Mantoididae with one species, Mantoidea maya - a small mantid (15-17mm long) with a square-like pronotum; it is only found in southern Florida in the United States. Needless to say, this specimen, found in California and exceeding 40mm, is a member of Mantidae. Also, there are only 16 species within Mantidae, in North America, so identification to the species level was rather simple. Based on its size, color, location, the time of year, and the distinct black and white circular marking on the inside of its frontal femur, it is Mantis religiosa. I also suspect it is a male because it seemed to be carrying a spermatophore, a protein/carbohydrate rich gift that some crickets, katydids, mantids, and other insects present to a female as a nuptial gift. Unfortunately for male mantids, females do not stop at the spermatophore...

Mantodea; Mantidae; Mantinae; Melieae; Mantis religiosa
Common Name: European Mantis (male)

Mantids are large, elongate, rather slow-moving insects that have distinct, modified front legs. Their fore femurs are raptorial, modified so as to facilitate hunting. The head is very mobile, and they prey on any insects they can catch. The larger species have even been known to stake out hummingbird feeders to catch the small birds when they come to feed. Mantids overwinter in the egg stage and the eggs are deposited in an egg case on twigs or grass stems; it may contain over 200 eggs. If confined, the nymphs will consume one another unless there is ample food. The female also consumes the male after or during mating. Mantids have been used as biological pest control, but it is not recommended because mantids do not discriminate between useful and harmful insects. They have also been known to stake out beehives and consume bees going to and from the hive.

Friday, August 7, 2009


I haven't had a chance to do much collecting, what with medical school starting and all, so I'll pull one out of the old collection box. On campus, there are a seemingly endless number of paper wasps of some kind, so I shall do an entry about the family of which they are a member. Paper wasps, in this case Polistes dominula, are members of Vespidae, which includes paper wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, mason wasps, and potter wasps. These insects are very common and well-known, most being black and yellow. The social vespids, such as the paper wasp, build a nest out of a papery material that results from the chewed up wood and foliage of the insect. They feed the larvae on insects and other carrion that is scavanged.

Hymenoptera; Vespoidea; Vespidae; Polistinae; Polistes dominula
Common Name: European Paper Wasp

The subfamily Polistinae contains eusocial vespids including paper wasps. The three genera are Polistes, Mischocyttaris, and Brachygastra. Some literature describes two other genera: Polybia and Ropalidiini. One method of identifying the European Paper Wasp is by its largely orange antennae, distinct among Vespidae. Also, to differentiate it from the familiar yellow jackets (genus Vespula) by its longer legs which hang noticeably when it flies.