Two six-year-old kids – Heisi and Madis – found the very first European mantis in Estonia in the yard of their kindergarden. “Madis is a big fan of nature books and films; he was the first one to identify the species,” said Madis’ teacher, Juta Müllerstein.
By now the University of Tartu Natural History Museum zoologists have confirmed that it is really the European mantis (Mantis religiosa) – a totally new species for Estonia.
The species’ Latin name comes from the distinctive posture of the first pair of legs that can be observed in animals in repose, which resembles praying.
While mantises are often associated with the tropics, the European mantis is not that exotic. It is a widely distributed insect, common to central and southern Europe. It was also introduced to Americas and Australia. Its discovery in Estonia was absolutely expected.
“While the European mantis has been around in Latvia and Lithuania for some time already, it was rather a question of time when we would find it in Estonia,” commented the University of Tartu Natural History Museum zoologist Villu Soon.
The specimen of the European mantis was found close to Pärnu, in Uulu:
“The mantis is a good enough flyer to enlarge its territorial distribution on its own,” Andro Truuverk from the University of Tartu Natural History Museum stated in contrast to the doubts that this specimen could have been someone’s lost pet.
The finding is also special because in addition to the new species, Estonia is now richer by a new insect order. “Never before have any mantises been found in Estonia,” said Truuverk.
Similarly to all other praying mantids, the European mantis is a carnivore – they eat almost anything that moves if they can grasp it. “It is also known that during copulation, the male insect can well become the food of a female. It does not happen always or as a rule, but there is such a risk and it impacts the male population,” added Villu Soon.
The first specimen of the new species is retained as a proof of the finding in the University of Tartu’s zoology collection.
Are new species a sign of global warming?
Scientists took a tissue sample from the European mantis for DNA analysis. The analysis will clarify whether this specimen came to Estonia from Latvia or elsewhere. In either case, the scientists do not hurry to relate such extreme solitary vagabonds with global warming. “There have been extreme migration waves,” said Soon. “It is very hard to establish what has caused them and what hasn’t,” added Truuverk. According to Soon, cyclones that sometimes bring new species to the north have become stronger with global warming.
View the data regarding the finding of the European mantis on the eBiodiversity portal.
The longer Estonian version of this article was originally published in ERR Novaator.