Insects of Tenerife
With its subtropical climate there are many interesting insects that can be seen in our gardens. Some of them are very big, some of them very small, some of them, such as the butterflies, are very beautiful and others, like the praying mantises, simply look really weird.
There are a number of species of Praying Mantis on the island and one of the most commonly
seen types is Blepharopsis mendica. The adult insects have spotted wings, reach a length of 6.8cm and have feathery antennae. They are quite often found in the drier parts of the south of Tenerife and so is the very strange looking species that is known to science as Hypsicorypha gracilis. It has wings too and a very thin and fragile looking body with a point on its head. This mantis is coloured a pale brownish colour and is ideally camouflaged when it is hiding in dried up vegetation.
The Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa), which can either be a shade of green or brown, is also found in some parts of Europe and Africa. Like other species of mantis it feeds on other insects and the female of this species has a reputation as a real insect femme fatale because she will eat the male who mates with her.
All Praying Mantis species develop from nymphs which are similar to the adults in general form but have no wings and are smaller. The mantises have weird eyes that make them look like aliens and they will look straight at you. They are all harmless creatures though and are really good examples of insects that are beneficial to the gardener because they eat other species that may well be pests that eat our plants.
The Ant Lion (Myrmeleon alternans) is another strange insect we may encounter in Tenerife. The adults look a bit like small dragonflies. They have banded bodies that are long and thin and they mostly fly at night. The larvae live in burrows in dry sandy soil. They get the name Ant Lion because they pounce on unsuspecting ants and other small insects that come within their reach. You are far more likely to see an adult than a larva.
Speaking of dragonflies, there are several species that live in Tenerife and the Canary Islands. If we have a pool in the garden it is even more likely that we will see these beautiful insects because the females lay their eggs in fresh water and they young insects are known as nymphs. The largest and most spectacular species is the Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator). It is very common and the males are a bright blue while the females are a greenish colour.
The Common Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) is another dragonfly that is often seen in Tenerife. The males have bright red bodies and the females are yellowish.
Dragonflies feed on other flying insects and the nymphs will eat small fish, tadpoles or other aquatic creatures. A garden pond is an ideal habitat for them but they also live in reservoirs and irrigation tanks.
Hoverflies hover and look like small wasps with their banded bodies. They are another example of insects which are a gardener’s friends. This is because the larvae eat aphids, those horrible little pests that suck the sap out of our prized flowering plants and vegetables.
Hoverfly larvae look like little green or brown slugs with a pointed head. They do a fantastic job in clearing aphids fast and will crawl around all over your plants looking for any they have missed. Adult hoverflies feed on nectar from flowers. They are definitely an insect we should encourage and a hoverfly is a true gardener's friend.
Death's Head Hawk
The most beautiful insect we might see flying in our gardens is the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). It is unmistakeable with its reddish-orange wings that are veined with black and with white spots on the wing tips. The caterpillars are very colourful too and candy-striped with yellow, black and white. The adults will be attracted to a garden with plenty of flowers but the females will be looking to see if you are growing any Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) because this is what they lay their eggs on.
Death's Head Hawk
Death's Head Hawk in films
The Death’s Head Hawk Moth has been prominently featured by artists, such as in work by German illustrator Sulamith Wülfing, and also in films including Un Chien Andalou (by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali) and The Silence of the Lambs starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster.
.A picture of the adult moth with its wings extended was featured on the cover of the latter movie, although the weird skull-like pattern is actually an image of seven naked women posing in the shape of a skull and taken from an original work by Dali.
Death’s Head Hawk Moths are also mentioned in Chapter 21 of Bram Stoker's horror story Dracula, where the evil vampire Count has been sending these moths for Renfield to eat.
Death's Head Hawk Moth
The massive larva of the Death’s Head Hawk Moth (Atropos acherontia) are the size of a man’s finger and have a little spike on their tail-ends. These caterpillars can be yellow, green or brown. The yellow and green forms have stripes on their sides and are very attractive creatures. The brown caterpillar is ideally camouflaged to look like the brown twigs of bushes it is feeding on. They eat a variety of plants but are most often found on the Lantana (Lantana camara) in gardens and on Thornapple (Datura stramonium) in the wild. The adult moths can squeak, raid beehives for honey and have a skull-like marking that gives them their name. They are without a doubt one of the strangest insects found on Tenerife.
First published in the Tenerife Weekly, April 2013