Antlions, Praying Mantis and unusual Tenerife and Canary Islands insects
Interesting insects of Tenerife
Tenerife's wide variety of natural habitats and semi-tropical to tropical temperatures that are typical of the Canary Islands make it an ideal home for very many unusual insects.
One of the most spectacular is the weird looking Praying Mantis species Blepharopsis mendica, which is fairly common in the south of the island. Adults have spotted wingcases and plumed antennae and just like the nymphs they have eyes that look like something straight out of a Sci-fi movie. There are also several other species of mantis found on Tenerife.
Antlions are also found in Tenerife and these insects have a fiercesome larval stage in which the young insect hides itself in the sand and waits for ants and small insects to come its way when it seizes them with its mighty mandibles. The adult antlion looks far more like a damselfly and has four delicate wings and a thin body. Unlike the damselfly, however, it flies at night. Myrmeleon alternans is the species of antlion found on the island.
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Speaking of damselfies there is one species, the Saharan Damselfly (Ischnura elegans saharensis), which breeds in freshwater and brackish pools.
There are also several species of much larger dragonflies and of these the bright blue males of the Emperor (Anax imperator) and those of the bright red Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) dragonflies are the most commonly seen. The females tend to keep a lower profile and are not so brightly coloured with the female Emperor being a greenish shade and the female Scarlet Darter has a yellowish body.
The dragonflies breed in the reservoirs and irrigation tanks around the island as well as any freshwater ponds they can find, most of which are in parks and gardens. Often you can see the discarded skins of the nymphs that are left behind on walls when they have climbed out of the water to complete their metamorphosis and the adults have emerged and flown. Having shed their skin they leave their old life behind for a new one in the air.
The Leaf-legged Bug (Leptoglossus membranaceus) gets its name from the projections on its legs that look like the insect is wearing jodhpurs. It feeds on various plants and flies in the sunlight. The Seed Bug (Spilotethus pandurus) is a very colourful species also found on Tenerife.
The Robber Fly (Promarchus latitarsatus) is also active in the sunshine when it hunts winged insects including bees, butterflies and moths and other types of fly, and it kills them by a bite with its proboscis. Its larva lives in the ground and in rotting wood and eats other insect larvae.
Whilst many butterflies are becoming rare and endangered due to human developments the African Grass Blue (Zizeeria knysna ) proves the exception to this and is often found in built-up areas where it thrives where there are lawns with patches of clover, which its caterpillars can eat. If you can spot a clump of White Clover (Trifolium repens) then the chances are you will see this pretty little butterfly too, especially if the gardeners do not mow the grass too often.
In some places in the Tenerife resorts like Las Americas there are quite large colonies of the African Grass Blue wherever lawns are maintained, and it also can be seen flitting around flower beds of the main squares in Puerto de la Cruz. This little butterfly is a real opportunist and takes advantage of what people have created.
The large and brightly-coloured Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is an insect you simply cannot fail to miss seeing on the island. These beautiful insects soar and glide through the air over gardens and parks stopping to feed on nectar from the many exotic flowers that grow on Tenerife.
The stripey caterpillars can only feed on species of Milkweed (Asclepias) so are only found where this plant is grown. The Scarlet Milkweed was introduced as a garden flower and this enabled this pretty butterfly to extend its range and to live in the Canary Islands.
The Monarch is famous for its fantastic migrations across America from the north to the south and back again each year. In Tenerife the butterflies have no need to migrate because the climate stays warm enough for them all year round, which means we can expect to see them even in the winter months.
Besides the butterflies of Tenerife there are some interesting moths too and the biggest of these is the Death Head's Hawk Moth (Acherontia atropos), which has a huge caterpillar that can be either yellow, green or brown and has a spike on its tail. It can click its mandibles if alarmed and the adult moth can squeak. It feeds on many plants in the Nightshade family (Solanaceae )including the Potato as well as species in the Verbenaceae like the Yellow Sage (Lantana camara) and the Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata) in the Bignoniaceae .
The adult moth is the subject of many superstitions because of the skull-like marking on its thorax and it is featured in the publicity for the movie Silence of the Lambs. Another strange habit of this species is that the moth will raid beehives and steal the honey.
The Death Head's Hawk Moth is a migrant species and it sometimes finds it way to the UK where it lays its eggs in potato fields.
Another hawk moth commonly found on Tenerife is the Vine Hawk (Hippotion celerio) and as you would expect its caterpillar feeds on grape vines as well as various other plants. The adult is another large and magnificent moth but because of its larva's choice of food it isn't very popular with farmers and gardeners on the island.
Copyright © 2010 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.