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the web of life in southern Africa

Mantophasmatodea (heelwalkers, mantos)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Phylum: Arthopoda > Mandibulata > Atelocerata > Panhexapoda > Hexapoda > Insecta (insects) > Dicondyla > Pterygota > Metapterygota > Neoptera > Polyneoptera > Anartioptera

Mantophasmatodea is a newly described, relict group of insects comprising a handful of species restricted to Africa. Mantos are related to Phasmatodea, Grylloblattodea and Mantodea. They are voracious carnivores.



Austrophasma caledonensis [Photo  Simon van Noort, Iziko ]

Lobophasma redelinghuysensis

Lobophasma redelinghuysensis [Photo  Simon van Noort, Iziko ]



The recent description of the new insect order Mantophasmatodea (Klass  et al. 2002) is akin to discovering beetles or flies, or for that matter, bats or rodents for the first time. The last time a category of insects was described at this deep evolutionary level was in 1914 when the ice crawlers (order Notoptera), a small group of insects restricted to the northern hemisphere, were brought to the attention of the scientific world. 

Specimens of Mantophasmatodea had in fact been collected in South Africa many years ago, mounted and housed in museum collections, but forgotten as they were misidentified as immature mantids (Mantodea). Amazingly, five individuals were collected by South African Museum staff as long ago as 1890 at Okiep in Namaqualand. Louis Albert Perinquey, an insect taxonomist at the South African Museum (1884-1924) examined these specimens and decided that they represented a new genus and species, which he provisionally named "Ograbiesa ferox". We know this from a label that he placed on the pin below one of the specimens. However, we do not know which order of insects he would have assigned these specimens to, as the genus and species were never formally described. The specimens were placed in a museum drawer along with unidentified Praying Mantids, where they stayed for more than a 100 years until a recent search through the collection unearthed them!  Possibly Peringuey considered that they belonged to, or were related to the order Mantodea, although at that time mantids, orthoptera and stick insects were grouped loosely together. Further searching produced additional, more recently collected specimens, located in various museums in South Africa. Live specimens of a dozen or so species have now been collected during field expeditions in 2002 and 2003 in South Africa and Namibia.

If you believe that you have found a heelwalker, please contact either Mike Picker or Simon van Noort.



Austrophasma caledonensis Photo Simon van Noort (Iziko)


Web page development and text by Simon van Noort (Iziko South African Museum) and Mike Picker (University of Cape Town)