Menoptera were humanoid in general appearance. They had human-like faces, but with large, black, compound eyes, black and white patterns and antennae. They had bands of black skin and white fur, which covered their bodies. Menoptera had four large wings, which allowed them to fly. If removed, the wings would quickly grow back, but the Menoptera would be unable to fly again. (TV: The Web Planet)
If only the wing membranes were damaged, they could still fly, though the Second Doctor admitted this was a puzzle as the Menoptera's size in relation to their wings shouldn't have enabled them to fly. However, isocryte that was present on Vortis was consumed in minute traces by the Menoptera and absorbed into their systems. Its anti-gravitic power allowed them to fly. (PROSE: Twilight of the Gods)
The Menoptera had weapons such as the Isop-tope, a living cell destructor, (TV: The Web Planet) and also a fleet of spacecraft, though they only constructed ships when necessary. They also possessed weapons and constructed villages in cliff-faces as well as temples to their Gods. (PROSE: Twilight of the Gods)
The Menoptera worshipped the Gods of Light, which they did so in the temples which they carved into the mountains and plateaus. They also used these caverns to hold the bodies of their dead. (TV: The Web Planet) They tended to look down on those without wings, (COMIC: The Naked Flame) revelling in their ability to fly which they believed was given to them by their gods. (PROSE: Twilight of the Gods)
The Menoptera originated on a different world before several of them were selected by two Gods of Light and relocated to Vortis as part of an experiment. Dozens of Menoptera were then taken over time and preserved like insects behind glass. (PROSE: Twilight of the Gods)
In Menoptera mythology, Hruskin was considered the first Menoptera and the grandmother of all others. She was said to have created the Zarbi to act as slaves. However, Acheron told the Fifth Doctor that this was only a story for larvae. (AUDIO: Return to the Web Planet)
Early in the history of Vortis, the Zarbi, led by a queen, fought a war against the Menoptera, forcing them to flee to the moons. An advance scouting party was sent to spy on the Zarbi, where they were attacked by a group of Atlanteans who had crash-landed there. Soon afterwards, the Menoptera discovered and captured the First Doctor. The Doctor escaped and encountered the Atlanteans, who took him to their ship, having assumed that he was one of them. The Atlanteans escorted the Doctor back to his TARDIS, where a battle between the Zarbi and the Menoptera was being waged nearby. From the TARDIS, the Doctor watched as the Atlanteans were cornered and killed by the natives of Vortis. (PROSE: The Lost Ones)
The Menoptera were a peaceful species living on the planet Vortis. They led simple lives, and the most work they did was carving out the tombs for their dead. This all changed when the Animus invaded the planet via mind control of the Zarbi. They were forced to flee to Vortis' new moon, Pictos.
Many centuries later, the Menoptera were able to develop the Isop-tope, which they believed would be able to stop the Animus. They sent a scouting group to investigate, with a later force to attack via the Sayo Plateau. However, the scouts were overpowered and either captured or killed. Likewise, the spearhead of the attack was expected and most of the forces were decimated. Eventually, they warred against the Animus and the Zarbi with the First Doctor, Barbara Wright, Ian Chesterton, and Vicki, eventually defeating the Animus, leaving the inhabitants of Vortis to resolve their differences peacefully. (TV: The Web Planet)
After the death of the Animus, the Clynex was allowed to grow. It began draining the life from the Menoptra, with only Jresta able to survive. The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith were able to save them from the Clynex by shattering it with his sonic screwdriver. (COMIC: The Naked Flame)
The Menoptera and the Zarbi worked peacefully together for many years, until the Zarbi apparently developed flight and deadly stingers, which they used to attack Menoptera. The First Doctor, John and Gillian arrived and, investigating, discovered that the flying Zarbi were actually Zarbi-shaped vehicles piloted by Skirkons, who had come to Vortis for its supplies of Galvinium X, and had enslaved the real Zarbi to oversee their Menopteran slaves. The Doctor and his grandchildren freed the Menoptera and defeated the Skirkons, who died when their base was destroyed. (COMIC: On the Web Planet)
Several years later, Vortis ended up in the nearby Rhumos system, home of a warring race. The planet became disputed territory, the Menoptra being made slaves, a seed of the Animus surviving and building up a slave force from the Rhumon dead not helping. Eventually, the Second Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon and Victoria Waterfield helped the Menoptra defeat the Animus again, and made the Rhumons declare Vortis neutral ground. (PROSE: Twilight of the Gods)
Though the Menoptera had come to peace with the Zarbi, eventually the Zarbi Supremo evolved and took over the Zarbi. Using advanced technology, it was able to move Vortis to an orbit around Jupiter. The Menoptera had caught wind of this, and took measures against this. They built up a force of spaceships in order to fight against the Zarbi. They also created Zarbi-like suits, allowing them to infiltrate the hives. However, the agents were captured and controlled, though they refused to help the Zarbi take over Earth. Eventually, with the help of the First Doctor and a team of Earth scientists, the Zarbi Supremo was killed and the Zarbi were returned to their normal state. (PROSE: The Lair of Zarbi Supremo)
Behind the scenes
Production information for the television story The Web Planet originally spelled the name Menoptra. The novelisation and subsequent stories, however, have used the name Menoptera. The latter spelling had caught on.