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Styrian praying lacewing

Mantispa styriaca

Photo: Styrian praying lacewing
Weights and measures
Length from 12 to 25 mm
Wingspan from 25 to 30 mm
Animal description
The Styrian praying lacewing, scientifically known as Mantispa styriaca, is a fascinating insect that belongs to the Mantispidae family, which is part of the larger order of Neuroptera. This particular species exhibits a unique blend of physical characteristics that may remind one of both a praying mantis and a lacewing, hence its name. Predominantly found in various parts of Europe, including its namesake region of Styria in Austria, the Styrian praying lacewing has captivated the interest of entomologists and nature enthusiasts alike due to its distinctive appearance and intriguing life cycle.

Adult Styrian praying lacewings are medium-sized insects with a body length typically ranging from 10 to 15 millimeters. They possess a slender, elongated body that is predominantly green or brownish in color, which helps them blend into their surroundings, especially when perched on vegetation. One of the most striking features of Mantispa styriaca is its forelegs, which are raptorial, meaning they are adapted for grasping prey. These forelegs are enlarged and folded in a manner similar to that of a praying mantis, giving the impression that the insect is in a perpetual state of prayer. The resemblance to mantids, however, ends there, as the lacewing has a very different lifestyle and feeding habits.

The wings of the Styrian praying lacewing are another remarkable aspect of its morphology. They are transparent with a delicate, lace-like pattern of veins, a characteristic feature of the Neuroptera order. The wings are relatively large compared to the body, allowing for efficient flight. The hindwings are broader than the forewings, and when at rest, they fold them neatly over their back.

Styrian praying lacewings have a fascinating and somewhat macabre reproductive strategy. The female lays her eggs on or near the nests of spiders or sometimes within the nests of other insects. Upon hatching, the larvae exhibit parasitoid behavior; the first instar, which is highly mobile, actively searches for spider egg sacs or host larvae. Once found, they infiltrate the sac or host, feeding on the developing eggs or larvae. This stage of their life cycle makes them beneficial in controlling the population of certain pests. After completing their development, which includes several larval stages, they emerge as adults ready to mate and continue the cycle.

In terms of habitat, Mantispa styriaca prefers warm, sunny environments where it can find ample vegetation. It is commonly found in meadows, edges of forests, and gardens where it hunts for small insects to feed on. Despite its predatory nature, the adult lacewing is also known to feed on nectar and pollen, showcasing a versatile diet.

The Styrian praying lacewing plays a significant role in the ecosystem as both a predator and prey. It helps control the population of certain insects while also serving as a food source for birds, larger insects, and other predators. Its unique life cycle, particularly the parasitoid larval stage, contributes to the biodiversity and balance within its habitat.

Despite its fascinating characteristics, the Styrian praying lacewing remains relatively obscure to the general public. However, for those interested in the intricacies of insect life and behavior, Mantispa styriaca offers a captivating glimpse into the complexity of nature's designs.
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