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Mantophasmatodea is a suborder of carnivorous African insects discovered in 2001 (Adis et al. 2002, Klass et al. 2002). The group was originally introduced as a new insect order, but based on recent evidence indicating a sister group relationship with Grylloblattidae (formerly classified in the order Grylloblattodea) (Terry & Whiting 2005, Cameron et al. 2006), Arillo & Engel have combined the two groups into a single order, Notoptera (Arillo & Engel 2006).
The most common vernacular name for this order is gladiators, although they also are called rock crawlers, heelwalkers, mantophasmids, and colloquially, mantos. Their modern centre of endemism is western South Africa and Namibia (Brandberg Massif) (Zombro et al. 2002), although a relict population, and Eocene fossils suggest a wider ancient distribution.
Mantophasmatodea are wingless even as adults, making them relatively difficult to identify. They resemble a mix between praying mantids and phasmids, and molecular evidence indicates that they are most closely related to the equally enigmatic group Grylloblattodea (Terry & Whiting 2005, Cameron et al. 2006). The gladiators initially were described from old museum specimens that originally were found in Namibia (Mantophasma zephyrum) and Tanzania (M. subsolanum), and from a 45-million-year-old specimen of Baltic amber (Raptophasma kerneggeri).
Live specimens were found in Namibia by an international expedition in early 2002; Tyrannophasma gladiator was found on the Brandberg Massif, and Mantophasma zephyrum was found on the Erongoberg Massif (Zombro et al. 2003).