Most of my mantid studies have concentrated on the species of this sub-family. There are seven species of mantids of the sub-family Amelinae occurring on the Iberian Peninsula. They belong to three different genera: Ameles, Apteromantis and Pseudoyersinia. In Ameles the males have long wings but the females very reduced wings, in Pseudoyersinia both sexes have very reduced wings and Apteromantis has no wings at all. The only Pseudoyersinia on mainland Spain, P. paui, is a species I have not seen that is confined to a relatively small area to the NW of Valencia.
To date, I have carried out prolonged studies on the conspecific behaviour of A picteti and A spallanzania including sexual and non-sexual signalling and cannibalism. Publishable papers on this current work should be concluded by autumn 2016.
Apteromantis aptera (Fuente, 1894)
This is the only species of this genus in Iberia. It is a Red Data Book species endemic to the southern half of Iberia and is mainly found in the arc of hills and low mountains that run [on the northern side of the Baetic Range] from Cadiz north-eastwards to Sierra Mágina. It can be green, brown or greyish in colour according to the prevailing colour of the grassland. It is the largest species of the sub-family usually 27-35mm in length.
It has one generation a year and overwinters as a nymph becoming adult in May. The habitats I have found it in are medium to tall grassland, sometimes with scrub and bramble or below a light covering of trees in the mesomediterranean [submontane] zone from about 700-1300m above sea level [asl]. The ootheca have been found on plant stems. They are very similar in shape to those of Empusa except that one end is hooked rather than pulled out into a long tail and they are a little longer 10-12mm and wider 6-8mm..
Little is known of their behaviour except that they appear to use abdominal movement during a range of conspecific interactions.
Ameles decolor (Charpentier, 1825)
This is a widespread species, usually 20-28mm long, and found from France eastwards to the Balkans. However, it is the rarest of the five species of Ameles occurring in Iberia, the only confirmed record so far found is in the far north-eastern corner of Spain though it may also occur in the sub-Pyrenean areas farther west. It was found in short to medium height scrub and grassland amongst scrub. It appears to have a single generation a year, overwintering as eggs.
Ameles paradecolor Agabiti, Salvatrice & Lombardo, 2010
This species, 20-25mm long, is regarded as the Iberian counterpart of the above species. It has only recently been recognised as a distinct species and so its distribution is not currently clear. Apart from a few sites in central Spain its distribution has only been confirmed from sites in the provinces of Albacete, Murcia and Alicante. I have found it in the Sierra de Alcaraz in Albacete. Here it inhabits areas of open woodland, both pine and oak, with patches of grassland and scrub. Like A spallanzania it appears to be fond of 30cm high patches of oak scrub.
It probably has a single generation a year in the Sierra de Alcaraz. It overwinters as eggs; the ootheca are identical to those of A spallanzania and laid under stones and rocks.
Ameles spallanzania (Rossi, 1792)
This species is found along the northern side of the Mediterranean basin from Greece westwards as well as in NW Africa. Although larger in some parts of its range, in southern Spain the males are mostly 15-20mm and the females 20-25mm in length. It is widespread in Iberia and is one of the species found in part of my garden that is an abandoned almond plantation with moribund Genista umbellata and grassland beneath.
It is found in a variety of habitats from abandoned cultivations to woodland and lower mountain slopes but one thing they all have in common is scrub of some kind. The woodlands whether pine, oak or a mixture must have a sufficiently light or patchy canopy to permit scrub to grow beneath. They are rare in heavily grazed areas unless there is sufficient thick scrubby cover. They are normally found from 300-1600m asl.
In southern Spain this species has one generation a year and the predominant lifecycle in this area is to over-winter in the egg stage. The adults are found from late July onwards. The ootheca are laid under stones or within cracks in stones. They normally vary in size from 8mm x 6mm to 12mm x 10mm. Females become sexually mature 12-15 days after eclosion and pheromonally call during the afternoon. Males do not come to light. The conspecific behaviour is the most complex that I have seen and it includes foreleg ‘boxing’ movements which can be seen across a range of different conspecific encounters as well as wing and abdominal movements that appear to be confined to courtship.
It occurs in green, brown or grey colour forms and some of the brown and grey females can be darker speckled. A spallanzania is morphologically variable across its range and recently a new sub-species [A. s. obscura] has been described from southern Spain [ref: Zootaxa 4377(1)]. These differ from other populations principally in having a slightly smaller size, shortened wings and smoky hind wings. The darkened hindwings vary, being more extensive in those individuals with a darker ground colour.
Ameles picteti (Saussure, 1869)
This is another Mediterranean species, believed to be limited in its distribution to southern Spain and Algeria. It is usually 25-30mm in length, locally common in Iberia and is one of the species found in my garden.
In this area it is found in a wide range of habitats but not in areas that are heavily grazed unless there is sufficient low scrub to permit taller grasses to grow within it. All the habitats must include grassland of some type, though this species tends to avoid patches of Piptatherum and is only rarely found in esparto [Stipa tenacissima] and Brachypodium retusum swards. Overwintering nymphs are commonly found in 10-15cm high Stipa capensis swards. It occurs from the coast to about 1000m asl.
The ootheca are either laid on plant heads or beneath stones. Hatched ootheca look superficially like those of hatched Iris but they are normally smaller, less than 10mm long and 5mm wide [cf Iris]. This species normally has two generations a year in this area [at least at lower altitudes], overwintering as a nymph. Adults can be found from late March to the following January, though most common during April and May and again from late July to September. Over-wintering nymphs can be seen during sunny weather in warmer periods of the winter when the ambient day-time temperatures remain at 15-20ºC and a few can be found below the vegetation canopy in sunshine when the temperatures are above 10ºC, otherwise they are quiescent. At this time they are regularly seen in the same patches of vegetation but in late February and March they gradually disperse from the over-winter sites. The females become sexually mature 10-15 days after eclosion and the females pheromonally call from about 20 minutes after sunset until midnight. The males come readily to light. Males of this species have a simple repertoire of signalling, predominantly limited to abdominal movements which can be seen during a wide range of conspecific encounters.
It occurs in green, grey and various shades of lightish brown. In swards where there are a mixture of dead and living plant material over-wintering nymphs appear to seek out the appropriate background relative to their own colouring.
Ameles assoi (Bolivar, 1873)
This species is very closely related to and similar in size to A picteti and may be a sub-species. It has be recorded from central and southern Spain, Morocco and possibly Tunisia. I have found it on the western side of the Sierra de las Nieves in western Málaga. Here it lives in sporadically grazed grassland containing patches of Cistus [crispus & albidus], Cytisus fontanessi, grazed Quercus scrub, Crataegus monogyna and Phlomis purpurea in and around Quercus rotundifolia woodland at between 1000 and 1100m asl. In Almería it has been found up to 1600m above sea level in open pine woodland. It also has been found in open pine woodland at 1020m asl in the Sierra Alcaraz in Albacete, and recently at 200-500m asl on the southern slopes of Sierra Bermeja north of Estepona.
In Málaga at around 1000m altitude, at least in some years, it appears to have two generations a year, overwintering as a nymph, but at higher altitudes it appears to have a single annual generation, overwintering as eggs. The ootheca have been found beneath stones and are identical to those of A picteti. In the two observed matings in this species no male displaying took place. A assoi also has similar colour forms to A picteti.
The distribution of this species is centred on the Mesomediterranean climatic zone whereas that of the closely related A picteti is centred on the Thermomediterranean zone. It may well be that sometime in the past a grassland species was pushed upwards and downwards / seawards and was eventually separated by invading woodland for a sufficiently long period of time for some speciation to occur.