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Locations

Odontomantis planiceps, commonly known as the Asian ant mantis, is a small mantis that has been sighted in a number of locations in Singapore.  Despite being so widespread, there are no publications on this particular species, and reliable information on their morphology, behaviour and phylogeny is unclear. 

These mantids seem to be able to thrive in highly disturbed environments and conserved areas.  They can be considered as one of the more urban species, which are more mobile and can be found in areas with very little vegetation

Screenshot of the map of Singapore, taken from iNaturalist (Permission granted). Red markers indicate the location of O. planiceps sightings reported by iNaturalist users, purple markers indicate locations that O. planiceps were personally observed.



Etymology

The genus name is a combination of the prefix Odonto- (from Greek word odous, meaning “tooth”) and Mantis, while the species planiceps is derived from a combination of Latin words - planus (meaning “flat”) and ceps (meaning “head”).

However, looking at the organism we have here… it’s a true mystery how it actually got its’ name.



Life Cycle

Ootheca

Similar to cockroaches, praying mantidslaytheir individual eggs in egg cases termed as ootheca.  Each ootheca is a huge investment by a single female because she invests in multiple offspring in one sitting.  The ootheca functions as a shield from environmental stressors such as temperature fluctuations and water damage1 . Many mantids tend to lay on solid surfaces such as branches and stems. But due to thebuilt up environment Singapore has, a lot of urban-adapted species lay theirooths on surfaces like railings, walls, and windows (personal observation).

Ootheca have been known to have the potential to delimit species, if not higher level taxa, due to the variation between different species2 3 .  However, ootheca morphology has been severely understudied throughout literature.  Below are some examples of other ootheca laid/formed by a few common local mantids to show how ootheca morphology can vary between species.


This is a very poor draft. I've to get photos for: Hierodula venosa, tenodera, Rhombodera, euchomenella


x

x


In O. planiceps, external dorsal walls of ootheca were white and foamy upon formation, but gradually developed into a hue of mustard yellow, with a coarse, scaly surface. They are formed from proximal to distal ends.  The emergence area is where the nymphs will hatch from the ootheca.  For each healthy ootheca laid by an O. planiceps, the hatchlings usually vary between 5 and 30 individuals (personal observation).

Labelled images of an O. planiceps ootheca.

Juvenile/Nymphs

How this species managed to get the common name is because of the uncanning ant mimicry that juveniles adopt1 .  Using this form of mimicry, the young and almost defenceless nymphs are able to camouflage as ants as a defence mechanism4 . However, ant mimicry only persists up to 3rd instar. From the 4th instar onwards, it becomes quite evident that they’re not ants.  Moreover, many mantids look like ants during early nymphal stages, especially hymenopodids, so it is unclear why only this particular species has been termed as an ant mantis.

In O. planiceps, early instar juveniles can be differentiated through differences in pigments of the raptorial forelegs (unpublished data).  Later instars can be determined through comparison of pigmented patterns in the compound eyes (unpublished data) and dorsal surface colouration. Subadults have enlarged wingbuds.

Although juvenile morphology is extremely important, it has been neglected in a lot of studies.  As juveniles are also carnivorous and cannibalistic, as they prey on other arthropods and even their own kind.  Hence, they do have the same ecological significance as adults and deserve just as much attention in research that adults do.

Adults

Keys available online described the genus as having: rounded bulging eyes, pronotum squat and shorter/as long as anterior coxa with poorly defined supra-coxal bulge, and non-dilated forefemor5 .  These traits were congruent with the morphology of imaged O. planiceps specimens.  Adults of O. planiceps have fully functional wings that extend to the tip of the abdomen, similar to most mantids. Although capable of flight, the females rarely fly due to their gravid abdomen.  Males are highly mobile and quick to fly.

Female (left) and male (right) pinned specimens





Interactions

With prey (Diet of a mantis)

Mantids are strictly predators, as they are only known to eat live prey.  Some aggressive individuals have been known to take down insects as large as them, which includes their mates, lizards, fishes, and small birds6 .  Many predatory insects can even be beneficial in agricultural pest suppression.  For example, Tenodera sinensis was introduced into North America as a form of biological pest control7 .  Afterall, mantids are extremely voracious feeders and are able to eat a wide variety of prey items, and has even shown that some mantises are able to gut the toxic innards of caterpillars8 .  However, O. planiceps is a small mantis that don’t usually exceed 2cm in length.  So in general, they are only able to consume smaller prey items like flies.  Mantids are also generally stalking or ambush predators.


Praying mantids catch prey using a quick striking motion with their forearms, and accuracy is usually high.  However, there are times where the prey are quick to flee or the mantid has generally poor aiming skills.

T4254-Odontomantisplaniceps-vid-1.mp4

With predators (Mantids as food)

Mantises have a single ear located at the ventral metathorax9 .  Although it only provides non-directional hearing, it is known to be extra sensitive to ultrasonic sounds. When it senses ultrasonic frequencies commonly used by bats that navigate and forage using echolocation, the mantis is able to fly downwards in a spiral, which helps them to escape predation10 .

Location of the mantis ear


Mantids are also a common prey item for other carnivores such as birds.  Recently, Fluffy, an albino kingfisher has been in the spotlight among birders due to its’ unusual colouration and concern for its’ ability to hunt independently. 

place photo soon. still awaiting permission

With parasites (Mantids as victims)

Horsehair Worms

Horsehair worms are one of the most common parasites that people often associate with mantids, most likely due to the gruesomeness of its emergence.  However, they are not known to be common in Singapore (personal observation).  The worms are parasitic nematomorphs that have a free living stage, intermediate host stage, and the intermediate hosts are consumed by mantids which end up being the final host that gets killed upon emergence of the parasite11 .  The parasite spends the free-living stage in water bodies, hence the intermediate stages only affect insects that spend a portion of their lives in water (ie. aquatic nymphal development).

Obtained from YouTube under Fair Use guidelines


Tachinid Flies

Tachinid flies have been recorded to lay their eggs on juvenile mantises and the larvae then boring into the hosts’ body12 . Symptoms of this form of parasitism include delayed moults and swelling of the mantis’s abdomens. Upon emergence, the individual mantids all died within 48 hours. These larvae burrow in soil and pupate. This type of parasitism has been observed within Singapore (unpublished personal observations), but remains understudied.

Pupa of a tachinid fly

Tachinid fly that emerged


Ootheca Parasitism

Recent observations and studies on these wasps have been conducted in regions outside Singapore and Malaysia13 14 , and the behaviour and life cycle of the North American Podagrion mantis has been fairly well studied by Breland15 . These wasps have been found to parasitize multiple host species, and all species of Podagrion are known to oviposit solely in the ootheca of praying mantises 16 17

Wasps oviposit into the egg chambers of ootheca, and offspring emerge from small holes from the ootheca.  This tends to to reduce the number of individuals that hatch from the ootheca.  Depending on the severity of parasitism, some ootheca might not even be able to yield any offspring.  Such parasitism has been observed around Singapore18 , but further studies need to be done to obtain information on species level identification, susceptibility of different ootheca structures, prevalence, specificity of different species, and many more information.

Chalcid wasp, suspected Podagion sp., ovipositing in the ootheca of a Tenodera sp. (Image by: Nicholas Lim)

Podagrion sp. that emerged from a Tropidomantis tenera ootheca.

With humans (Mantids in the pet trade)

Praying mantids are commonly kept as pets in other countries, and even sold in pet shops.  Pet shops tend to stock a wide variety of arthropods, which includes both pet insects and feeder insects, making mantid rearing a breeze.  However, such privileges and access to a wide variety of feeder insects are not available in Singapore, making mantid rearing here difficult. 

O. planiceps has been known to be one of the easier species to rear, and is quite popular in the pet trade.  However, O. planiceps is a tropical species and most countries that have a booming pet trade for praying mantises tend to be temeperatre regions.  This makes it difficult for them to have a consistent supply of wild individuals to add to the gene pool, and inbreeding becomes a huge problem that leads to the subsequent downfall of the O. planiceps stocks. If you take a look at multiple websites that sell O. planiceps, none have any stocks available. (FIND)



Taxonomy

Sometimes, different names are assigned to the same species, especially when a species that has already been described earlier was described again.  The names that come after the initial naming and descriptions are considered as junior synonyms and should not be used in nomenclature.

In the case of Odontomantis (Saussure, 1871) as a genus, Antissa (Stal, 1871) and Euantissa (Giglio-Tos, 1927) were classified as junior synonyms. For species-level names, javana (Saussure, 1870) was classified as a junior synonym.  Hence, the species should be referred to as Odontomantis planiceps (de Haan, 1842).

Unfortunately, a wide variety of names have been incorrectly used to describe the species.  It is not uncommon to come across information describing Euantissa sp19 20 .  Moreover, wrong references for the species name has been quite prevalent too, with people calling it Odontomantis planiceps (Giglio-Tos, 1913)21 ,despite de Haan (1842) being the accurate name.



Type specimens

As opposed to information stated on Mantodea Species File Online22 , personal communication with curators from Natural History Museum of Geneva revealed that the female holotype has been filed under the synonym O. javana, and has been transferred to RMNH Leiden (Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden). Hence, the holotypes for both males and females are currently stored in RMNH Leiden. 



Phylogeny

Lineage

Family Hymenopodidae

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Phylogenetic Trees & COI Barcode

A recent ML and BI analysis showed that family Hymenopodidae has been quite well researched and established, hence majority of the indiviuls from this family are clustered together on the phylogenetic tree without any differences between both types of analysis.  Support values for the main branch of the family was also more that 0.95. Odontomantis sp. is a sister taxon to Anaxarcha zhengi.  However, more detailed phylogenetic trees for species in the genus Odontomantis sp. has yet to be established.

Word document containing the COI sequence for Odontomantis planiceps obtained from Singapore:



References

Footnotes
Ref Notes
1 McMonigle, 2013 [ a b ]
2 Breland & Dobson, 1947
3 Brannoch et al., 2017
4 Huang et al., 2011
5 Mantodea Species File Online, 1997
6 Battiston et al., 2018
7 Frank, 2015
8 Mebs et al., 2017
9 Yager & Hoy, 1986
10 Triblehorn & Yager, 2002
11 Schmidt-Rhaesa & Ehrmann, 2001
12 Young, 2009
13 Fagan & Folarin, 2001
14 Panis & Laudeho, 2008
15 Breland, 1941
16 Coombs, 1994
17 Fox, 1939
18 Lum & Ho, 2018
19 Encyclopedia of Life
20 Tree of Life web project
21 Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
22 Mantodea Species File Online

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