MANTIS

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It’s now under a month until I head off to Ecuador for Manchester’s Tropical Ecology field course, and I’ve been pulling out my field gear to check everything’s in order. Demonstrating on field courses can sometimes get pretty stressful- between praying that your chosen project species will be having a good year and hasn’t chosen to desert the field site entirely and frantically explaining how to interpret statistics 20 minutes before a hand in deadline, things can feel a bit fraught. But there are also times when you’ll be sitting there with a G&T and one of the students calls you over to see a particularly awesome insect, and you remember that it’s one of the greatest jobs in the world.

These pictures of a mantis were taken on one of those occasions- it had truly amazing camouflage (I mean, just look at the leaf wings. They have veins for god’s sake) and we spent a while admiring its raptorial front legs and huge eyes. Mantids have an unnerving way of always seeming to keep track of you, but I’ve just found out that this is the result of an optical illusion that creates a ‘pseudopupil’. Like many insects they have compound eyes, which are made up of units called omnatidia. When you look at them head on the ommatidia absorb light, but those at the side reflect light- thus creating the tracking effect. Another mystery solved by the wonders of science. Amazing eh?

Hopefully we’ll see a good few species on this year’s trip- or, even better, one of my holy grail insects- a mantispid, who look like a wasp crossed with a mantis but are actually neither (they belong to the neuroptera, so are more closely related to things like lacewings and antlions). A girl can dream.

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