In A League Of Their

Thousands of new insect species are discovered every year. But the last time a new order of insects was discovered was back in 1914. Heel-walkers had been known for more than one hundred years but were ignored by scientists because they closely resembled young praying mantids. In 2001, forgotten specimens of heel-walkers collected in Namibia and Tanzania were discovered in museum collections. In 2002, after careful examination, researchers placed them in their own order, the Mantophasmatodea.

Heel-walkers usually live alone, but pairs of males and females are often found together in the same tuft of grass. Populations are usually concentrated in small patches within a much larger area of suitable habitat. They appear to be active day and night, moving very slowly through the grass. However, they can move quickly to capture prey or while mating. The common name "heel-walker" comes from the fact that as they walk, the clawed tips of their feet are always held up in the air. The males use the projections on special plates located on their abdomens to tap on the ground, possibly as a means of communicating with other heel-walkers.

Courtship among heel-walkers is unknown. Males climb up on the female's back to mate, a process that may take up to three days. Females produce several sausage-shaped egg pods, each containing ten to twenty long, oval eggs. The egg pods are covered by a coating of sand mixed with special fluids produced by the female. The coating is shaped by the female's ovipositor and eventually becomes hard. The larvae hatch at the beginning of the rainfall period and strongly resemble the adults. They will molt, or shed their hard outer coverings, several times before reaching adulthood near the end of the winter wet season and die during the following summer dry season. Their life span varies considerably, depending on how much rain falls in the summer and winter.

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