Welcome to Animal Magic – a series of fortnightly columns where we take an in-depth look at some of Tilgate Nature Centre’s popular, and less well-known animal residents.
This week three Discovery Room species are in the spotlight as we compare their eating habits, hunting tricks and even their parenting techniques.
Dead leaf mantis
Black beauty stick insect
Three species, three continents
Our Discovery Room houses ‘weird and wonderful’ species from across the world.
The three insects we’re focusing on this week come from three different continents.
The dead leaf mantis (part of the praying mantis family) is from south-east Asia, Macleay’s spectre is found in Australia and the black beauty stick insect inhabits just one 5km area of Peru in southern America.
Leaves, spines and wings
The three insects are very different in appearance and it’s fascinating to consider the reason or use for each feature.
There are more than 2,000 species of praying mantis, some even resemble orchid flowers.
Dead leaf mantises get their name from their resemblance to dead leaves, which helps to camouflage them from predators. When in hunting mode themselves, they use the barbs on their front legs to catch and hold their prey.
The Macleay’s spectre is a type of stick insect. Females are flightless but covered in large spines which offer protection; males are smaller and able to fly.
Black beauty stick insects have distinctive black bodies and bright red wings – these colourings are very unusual for stick insects. They have glands on the back of their head which produce an unpleasant liquid to deter predators.
Although black beauty stick insects are only found in one small area of land, they are not considered endangered or vulnerable. Their young can take between two and 18 months to hatch and are moved to collections across the country.
The other two insects display interesting behaviours designed to protect their young – a female Macleay’s spectre will flick her eggs several metres away to keep them away from predators; dead leaf mantis eggs are laid in a foamy mass which then hardens to provide protection before they hatch.
The two stick insect species are fed on a diet mostly made up of vegetation.
Macleay’s spectre feed on eucalyptus plants and black beauty insects’ favourite food is privet. Dead leaf mantises have a more carnivorous diet with insects such as crickets and locusts, and even small lizards, on the menu.
n To learn more about the residents of Tilgate Nature Centre, visit www.tilgatenaturecentre.co.uk