Mantodea: Mantidae: Brunneria borealis, Scudder 1896
As a kid, I was always outside exploring the great outdoors, which for me usually consisted of chasing and catching any insect within sight (even wasps, which I usually ended up regretting)! But I remember, as many of us probably do, catching and trying to feed one of the most bizarre of insects, the praying mantis. I thought they were fascinating – after all, they are the only insects that can look over their shoulders! These peculiar insects have been the inspiration for movies such as The Deadly Mantis (1957) and Praying Mantis (1993), a movie about a female serial killer who marries and subsequently murders men after their first night together.
There are more than 1500 species in 8 families of mantises in the world, and most of these are tropical in distribution (1). All other species of Brunneria except B. borealis have a tropical to subtropical distribution in South America (2). The species is common in the south and southwestern United States, and Raleigh may represent the farthest north collection record. This species of Mantidae, commonly called the Brunner’s mantid, is particularly interesting because it reproduces exclusively by parthenogenesis, meaning males are not necessary for reproduction. In 1947, Rosewall described the biology of Brunneria borealis and White (1948) described the chromosomes of the parthogenetic species. It seems very little has been published on the Brunner’s mantid since.
The term «praying» mantis was coined because of the prayer like stance of the insects, though they are sometimes referred to as «preying» mantises because they are fierce predators, feeding mostly on other insects (check out this video of a mantis capturing a mouse!). It is well known that the female praying mantis often eats her male partner during or after mating (see this poor male), as the male is the nearest source of valuable nutrition for the impregnated female. However, Brunneria borealis is an exception to this intriguing behavior since no males are known for the species.
Brunneria is easy to collect since it is so conspicuous and slow-moving. The ootheca (egg case) is also easy to collect from bare twigs of trees and other woody vegetation and is distinctive to the species with a strong horn-like projection at one end of the case. Adults should be pinned, though sometimes the soft body needs extra support from a piece of cardboard or some extra pins to prevent the specimen from sagging.
The NCSU Insect Museum currently has 51 specimens total from Wake County (most of which are from Raleigh) between 1928-1993, Bladen Co. between 1989-1999, Brunswick Co. (1980), Johnston Co. (1979), Swan Quarter, N.C. (1947), Davidson, N.C., Burgaw, N.C. (1973), Aberdeen, N.C. (1957), Caroline Beach, N.C. (1945-1948), Wilmington, N.C. (1947-1948), and Tifton, GA (1949). This species is fairly common, and we are in need of freshly captured specimens!