Mantidfly – Looks Like Praying Mantis And Wasp. Insects aren’t the easiest animals to identify. Sometimes, we misidentify robber flies as bees and damselflies as dragonflies. Even professional entomologists (scientists who study bugs) can become stumped when attempting to identify similar species.
Yet, there is one family of insects that might be among the most perplexing, and at first, you might not even think they’re real. These insects are the matidflies, which are in the family Mantispidae. Take a look at one below. Does that look like a wasp to you?
If you said, “Yes,” you are not incorrect, since it does, indeed, look like a wasp. It has all of the features of a wasp from the wasp like head to black and yellow stripes to the bulbous thorax. Even the wings look wasp like. Yet, this insect isn’t a wasp. Let’s have a side profile view.
Now, it looks less like a wasp and more like a praying mantis. It has the head of a praying mantis and the raptorial front legs of one as well. It even captures flies and other small insects with its front legs and eats them just like a praying mantis. But it is not a praying mantis either.
In fact, while mantidflies look like a cross between a wasp and a praying mantis, they are not even related to either group of insects. Instead, they are in the order Neuroptera, which consists of insects called lacewings or net wings.
To see a mantidfly in action, watch the video below. You will see just how much this weird critter resembles wasps and mantises in appearance and behavior.
About 5–47 mm (0.20–1.85 in) long and with a wingspan of 5–30 mm (0.2–1.2 in), some mantidflies such as Climaciella brunnea, Euclimacia nodosa are wasp mimics, but most are brownish with green, yellow and sometimes red hues. The vernacular and scientific names are derived from their mantis-like appearance, as their spiny “raptorial” front legs are modified to catch small insect prey and are very similar to the front legs of mantids (the only difference is that the pincers lack footpads and are not used for walking at all).
The adults are predatory insects that are often nocturnal, and are sometimes attracted by porch lights or blacklights. They are usually green, brown, yellow, and sometimes pink, and have four membranous wings which may sometimes be patterned (especially in wasp mimicking species) but are usually clear. Adult mantidflies are predators of suitably sized insects, which they catch as mantids do. However, the underlying mechanisms for the prey capture behavior are different in mantidflies and mantids. Mantidfly are active hunters, but as with other Neuroptera, they are cumbersome fliers.
Symphrasinae larvae are sedentary parasitoids on bee, wasp or scarab beetle larvae. Larvae of the Calomantispinae are predators of small arthropods, and in at least one species they are mobile. Mantispinae have the most specialized larval development among all mantidflies studied to date (the life history of the Drepanicinae remains unknown): their campodeiform larvae seek out female spiders or their egg sacs which they then enter; the scarabaeiform larvae then feed on the spider eggs, draining egg contents through a piercing/sucking tube formed by modified mandibles and maxillae, pupating in the egg sac.
First-instar mantispids use two strategies to locate spider eggs: larvae may burrow directly through the silk of egg sacs they find, or they may board and be carried by female spiders prior to sac production (phoresy), entering the sac as it is being constructed. Mantispids that board spiders usually adopt positions on or near the base of the abdomen; some species may enter the spider’s book lungs. Larvae maintain themselves aboard spiders by feeding on spider hemolymph. Transfers of larvae from spider to spider are possible during spider mating or cannibalism. All of the major groups of hunting spiders are attacked by spider-boarding mantispids; the egg sacs of web-building species are also entered by egg-sac penetrators.