A family of wingless carnivorous insects belonging to the order Notoptera called Mantophasmatidae was found in Africa in 2001. Originally, the group was considered to be an order in and of itself, and was given the name Mantophasmatodea. However, Arillo and Engel have combined the two groups into a single order, Notoptera, based on recent evidence suggesting a sister group relationship with Grylloblattidae (previously classified in the order Grylloblattodea).

A Mantophasmtidae from Erongoberg, Namibia

Gladiators : Appearance and behaviour


The term “gladiators” is used most frequently to refer to members of this order, but other names include “rock crawlers,” “heelwalkers,” “mantophasmids,” and “mantos.” Although Tanzaniophasma subsolana, a contemporary relict population in Tanzania, and Eocene fossils show a wider ancient distribution, their modern centre of endemism is in western South Africa and Namibia.

These insects can grab their prey thanks to specially modified raptorial legs. While some species are fast-moving and attack prey that is the same size as themselves, other species are slow-moving and grab smaller prey. A large portion of these insects is nocturnal, only coming out at night to hunt and feed. The majority of species range from light to reddish brown, while some can be bright green or dark brown, and some can have spots that are either red or black.

A dramatic macro portrait of a Mantis

The Gladiator bugs resemble mantids (family Mantidae) and walkingsticks (family Phasmatidae) at first glance, but they can be easily distinguished by their distinctive long, thin antennae and their propensity to hold the last segment of their legs up in the air, giving them the appearance of being on their heels (hence the alternate name heelwalker). Adicophasma spinosa, which is known from Baltic amber, has an adult body length as low as 5.8 mm (0.2 inches) and as high as 32.0 mm (1.3 inches), making it the largest known species of gladiator bug. In Tanzania in East Africa or the Karoo-Namib region of southern Africa, hot, dry habitats are home to all extant species.

Natural history 


Mantophasmatodea, the first new order of insects described since 1914, was named in 2002. The basic basis for this order was three specimens that German researcher Oliver Zompro found in 2001 while researching stick insects. The oldest specimen, said to be 45 million years old, was discovered in Baltic amber and dated to the Eocene Epoch. The remaining two samples were found in southern Africa in 1909 and 1950. There are 15 species in the order right now. Although it may seem strange that living species can be found in Africa and fossil species can be found in Baltic amber, a similar biogeographic relationship has been discovered in other insect lineages.

All of the species that have been described have stout bodies and long, slender antennae as their defining features. All adult animals lack wings. Different species have different body and leg spine lengths, densities, and numbers. The size and shape of the compound eyes, the head’s shape, and the presence or absence of tubercles (small, raised bumps) between the base of the antennae and the compound eyes on the front of the head are additional traits used to distinguish between species. There are very few diurnal animals, and most species are nocturnal. Mantophasma zephyra, also known as the West Wind Gladiator, is a diurnal species that is almost always green in colour. Males have yellow lateral stripes, while females have white lateral stripes. 

Close view of Tyrannophasma gladiator

According to reports, M. zephyra males and females “drum” by striking their abdomens against a substrate to create vibrations that help them find, connect with, and attract potential mates. Gladiator insect species that are still alive are all predatory. For instance, the T. gladiator’s raptorial fore-and mid-legs enable it to catch prey that is the same size as itself, in contrast to the slow-moving Praedatophasma maraisi, which has been observed to catch prey that is crawling on the ground.

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