Wild Barcelona: Bugging out
Photo by Lucy Brzoska
About to be photographed, the praying mantis lurched towards the camera lens, ready for combat. We’re now in autumn, the best time of year to observe the praying mantis in and around Barcelona, as this year’s young reach maturity and are ready to mate.
Though numerous, sometimes they can be in front of your nose and invisible, thanks to their leaf-like camouflage.
The mantis, meanwhile, misses nothing, with a swivelling neck and stereoscopic vision. It also has three ‘simple’ eyes between the antenna that act as an auxiliary light metre. Hidden in the vegetation, it lies in wait to ambush unsuspecting insects, snatched and secured on spiky forelegs.
During the year you might come across an ootheca, a small white case harbouring up to 400 mantis eggs, which are deposited on stones, plants or buildings. The laying takes place shortly after mating, during which the females often devour the males, a nourishing post- or even mid-copulation snack. Hatching will occur the following spring, when quantities of tiny mantis nymphs tumble out and rapidly scatter in all directions to avoid cannibalism.
Another fascinating insect to spot at the moment, but only by the most keen-eyed, is the stick insect. For those who grew up watching them as exotic pets inside glass containers, it’s a thrill to find stick insects roaming freely through the Collserola, like cellulose gymnasts. They look fragile, but can re-grow a damaged limb after moulting.
Much more visible and common are the striped shield bugs, red and black like the strip of AC Milan. They are often conspicuously perched on the top of plants, trusting in their warning colours to remind predators how bad they taste.
Nick Lloyd and Lucy Brzoska write for www.iberianature.com and run nature tours in Barcelona.
First published October 2009.