Friday, October 18, 2019

[Entomology • 2019] Vespamantoida wherleyi • A Novel Form of Wasp Mimicry in A New Species of Praying Mantis (Mantodea, Mantoididae) from the Amazon Rainforest

 Vespamantoida wherleyi 
Svenson & Rodrigues, 2019

A wasp mimicking praying mantis (Mantodea) of the early evolving Mantoididae family was discovered in 2013 at a research station near the Amazon River in Northern Peru. This adult specimen exhibited a striking bright red/orange and black coloration pattern that was undocumented in all known praying mantis species. We tested the status of this new specimen using external morphology, male genital dissections, and geographic distribution. Our findings demonstrate the specimen to represent a new species, Vespamantoida wherleyi gen. nov. sp. nov., that is closely allied with a recently described species, Mantoida toulgoeti Roy, 2010, both of which are included within the newly erected genus. To support our actions, we present high resolution images of museum preserved and living specimens, morphological illustrations, a generic-level distribution map, and recorded video of the behavior of the holotype taken in the field at the time of collection. The bright red/orange coloration contrasted with black markings, the general appearance of a hymenopteran that includes a narrowed wasp waist, and the locomotory patterns and antennal movements mark this newly discovered species as unique among all hymenopteran mimicking Mantoididae as well as all other praying mantises.

Figure 1: Vespamantoida wherleyi gen. nov. sp. nov. male holotype from Peru, live habitus photos (CMNHENT0129976).
 (A) On twig; (B) on leaf. Photo credit: Gavin J. Svenson.

Vespamantoida gen. nov. 

Type-species— Vespamantoida wherleyi sp. nov. by original designation

Diagnosis— Forefemur narrow basally, only slightly wider than apex; discoidal spines elevated well above the ventral plane on a pronounced discoidal swelling (Figs. 4A–4D). Anteroventral femoral spines loosely arranged in two rows of three spines followed by a single row of four spines (Figs. 4A and 4B). Distal half of the first segment of the foretarsi flattened, laterally expanded, and black, forming a tarsal paddle (Figs. 4A–4D). Distal process of the ventral phallomere densely setose from narrowly rounded terminus to a heavily sclerotized, broad base; process comprised entirely of the paa, the distal process (pda) is highly reduced or absent (Figs. 5C and 5D).

Distribution— Although species of Mantoida are recorded across a broad range from Florida, USA to Northern Argentina, both Paramantoida amazonica and both species of Vespamantoida are restricted. Paramantoida amazonica is only recorded from a long transect that roughly follows the northern boundary of the Rio Negro from Manaus to the Parque Nacional Serrania La Neblina in southern Venezuela. The two species of Vespamantoida are found far from each other on near opposite sides of the Amazon Basin. This extremely disjunct distribution is supportive of the distinct boundary between the two species.

Etymology— Vespamantoida from the Latin word vespa, meaning “wasp,” and Mantoida, the name of the type genus of the family Mantoididae. This is a reference to the striking similarity between the type species and wasps.

Vespamantoida toulgoeti (Roy, 2010)
Mantoida toulgoeti (Roy 2010; Agudelo 2014; Roy 2019)

Vespamantoida wherleyi sp. nov.

Type Locality—Peru, Loreto Province, Madre Selva Biological Research Station.

Diagnosis—Head is bright red/orange with symmetrical black markings on the anterior half of the vertex and the ocellar tubercle; the pronotum, thorax, and first three segments of the abdomen bright red/orange. The forelegs and mesothoracic legs orange. The metathoracic legs are orange in the proximal half of the femur, then black to reddish to the terminus of the tibiae; the tarsi are orange. The flagellum of the antennae of the male thickening from base to the broadest antennomers 7–9, then tapering thinner to the terminus. A dark black spot centrally located on the frontal sclerite. The L1 shaped as an elongated bar with a slight curve distally that orients towards the afa, to form a claw-like structure with a broadly open gap (Figs. 1, 2, 4B, 4D, 5D, 6C, 6D, 7B and 7D).

Comments— This species is distinct from V. toulgoeti in the coloration of the specimen, the shape of the antennae and the male genitalia. The distribution of the two species, V. toulgoeti only known from French Guiana and V. wherleyi only from Northern Peru, allows for easy diagnosis between the congeneric species. The female of V. wherleyi is currently unknown.

Distribution— Known only from the type locality on the southern bank of the Amazon River in Northern Peru (Fig. 8; Table S1). Sympatric species of Mantoida were sampled from the same location, but none exhibited coloration outside of dark brown and black that is typical for the genus.

Etymology— Named for Rick Wherley, a valued member of the systematic entomology group at Cleveland Museum of Natural History. He has enriched the scientific content of the Museum for many years through imaging and computational improvements.

Natural history— The type specimen was collected in dense, tropical rainforest near the banks of small tributary of the Amazon River in Northern Peru. The specimen flew to our sampling lights within an hour after dark and was taken from the sheet shortly after. No observations were made of the mantis in situ for fear it would fly away and not be found again. The specimen was placed in a small enclosure on natural vegetation taken from the surrounding habitat for observation. Short video clips were recorded of the mantis walking on a blunt stick within this placed vegetation (Video S1). The 19 second video, including two behavioral segments, clearly demonstrates a number of behavioral characteristics that are strikingly similar to the movement patterns of many hymenopteran wasps. First, the mantis walks forward, with the head in a lowered position, and rapidly sweeps side to side, rotating its body in an alternating, circuitous pattern as it moves forward. This pattern is broken up by larger redirections on the terminus of the stick in what appears to be a search behavior. A second similarity is the antennal movements beginning a rapid up and down pattern that appears to be contacting the substrate to feel or sense the environment while walking, then moving with a declining amplitude following a pause in walking. A third similarity is the slight up and down movement of the abdomen while walking that resembles a hymenopteran-like pumping or venting behavior. The fourth similarity is the rapidity of the mantis’ walking and the rapid start and stop to this motion.

Gavin J. Svenson and Henrique M. Rodrigues. 2019. A Novel Form of Wasp Mimicry in A New Species of Praying Mantis from the Amazon Rainforest, Vespamantoida wherleyi gen. nov. sp. nov. (Mantodea, Mantoididae). PeerJ. 7:e7886. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.7886