Common Name: Mantidfly
Scientific Name: Mantispa sp.
Description: This is one of the most unusual groups of insects. They have a long prothorax, forelegs modified for catching prey (raptoria) and a head more characteristic of a praying mantis (Mantodea: Mantidae), but the wings are clear and delicately veined resembling those of lacewings, with a wingspread on nearly 1-inch. Climaciella brunnea actually appears wasp-like, mimicking Polistes (Hymenoptera: Vespidae), with a yellow and dark brown banded abdomen and dark leading edges on the forewings.
There are about ten species of mantispids in Texas. Another unusual, closely-related group is the snakeflies (Neuroptera (Suborder Raphidiodea): Raphidiidae), appearing somewhat similar to mantispids because of their elongated “neck” (prothorax), but they lack raptorial forelegs. These unusual and rare insects fly during April in the Hill Country among cedar groves and can be collected using light traps.
Life Cycle: Hypermetamorphosis. Clusters of about 1,000 eggs, attached to short transparent stalks, are laid on leaves or other surfaces. Eggs hatch in 11 to 30 days. First stage (instar) larvae are small, dark brown with three pairs of functional legs behind the head. They spend much time standing vertically on the tips of their abdomens and actively crawl or leap, seeking a passing suitable host spider or insect (bee or wasp). When successful, they attach to the host and “hitch a ride” (are carried) to the nest or egg-laying site (i.e., they are phoretic). Two later stages are grub-like while feeding on their host’s offspring. Fully grown larvae spin cocoons and pupate inside their last larval skin. Adults occur year-round, especially in summer and fall.
Habitat and Food Source(s): Mouthparts are for chewing. First stage (instar) larvae seek hosts, attaching to them. Later stages are external parasites of spider egg sacs, and perhaps bee or wasp larvae. C. brunnea adults are active during the daytime and are attracted to flowers of thistle and other plants, feeding on insects (aphids, lygus bugs, lady beetles, stink bugs), sap and nectar (honey in captivity). They are also cannibalistic. Adults of some species are night active (nocturnal). Specimens are often attracted to ultraviolet (“black”) light or found by sampling vegetation with a sweep net.
Pest Status: Rather rare insects but occasionally become locally abundant and arouse curiosity. Immature stages feed on spider egg masses or larvae of wasps and bees; medically harmless.
Literature: Batra 1972; Borror et al. 1989; Redborg & Macleod 1983; Swann & Papp 1972.