Praying Mantis Care Guide

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Praying Mantis Care Guide

praying mantis care guide

Praying Mantis Introduction

To me, there a few animals as fascinating as the praying mantis.  Their behavior and appearance make them superb pets for those who like creepy crawlies but who don’t have a lot of space for pets.  There are around 2300 species of praying mantis on the Earth of which a few hundred are being kept as pets. There are far too many currently popular pet species to list in one care guide, so examples of various types will be highlighted.

There is no one right type to acquire.  Different species require different levels of care and have different behavioral and anatomical characteristics.  Species that are highly active and aggressive hunters of ground dwelling insects are streamlined and rather ordinary in appearance.  If the excitement of the hunt appeals to you as a keeper, then there are some really nice options out there.  If weird and wonderful is more your style, there are species that are so outlandish in appearance that it can be hard to tell where the head begins and ends.  The swift hunters tend to be easier to maintain than the ornamental sorts, so it just depends on the keeper’s preferences and life style.

Very Short Life Span

If a long term contract with a pet is not your idea of a good time, then praying mantis’ might be for you.  Even with the best of care, most species live less than 1 year.  Keeping them a bit cool helps to reduce their metabolism and lengthen the time in between molts, all of which can lengthen the life span a little.  Do not, however, plan on keeping that gorgeous Orchid Mantis for several years. 

Pricey Insects

Also, unless collected in the wild, purchasing mantids can add up to a serious chunk of change if you wish to have several.  Prices for even the most common start at $20 and go up to $65 or more for the ornamental tropical varieties.  Highly predatory species tend to be most affordable and the least expensive, but many experienced keepers find them just too ordinary and prefer to shell out big bucks regularly or even  breed their own. 

Both kinds can be very rewarding, however. For instance, the eyes that follow you intently are easier to discern in the aggressive, sleek species.  And yes, they really are looking at you. They can see movement up to 60 feet away and are  the only insect known at this time to have the ability to see in three dimensions as humans can.

So here is a rundown of some of the most popular and easily acquired kinds.

Common Praying Mantis for Pets

Sleek, Fast, and Aggressive

Chinese Mantis - Tenodera sinensis

chinese praying mantis

A Chinese mantis is docile with its keepers. They occasionally strike a defensive posture, but not that often, for they tend to feel pretty secure and relaxed around humans.  They will aggressively stalk prey around their cage when hungry, and watching them stalk, strike and then eat can be highly entertaining. At up to 4 inches long, they are capable of handling some pretty large prey.  Even hummingbirds.

African Mantis – Sphodromantis lineola

african praying mantis

This species of praying mantis is usually green, with beige and brown varieties being available from certain breeders.  This is one of the larger species of praying mantis offered in the pet trade, although it is smaller than the Chinese.  The females are about 3 inches long, with the males being a bit smaller at a maximum length of 2.8 inches. They are also docile and fun to watch.

Budwing Mantis –  Parasphendale affinis

budwig praying mantis

This species is quite voracious. This mantis will readily tackle prey as big as itself, although it is recommended that the size of the prey item does not exceed 1/3 the length of the mantis. Females have stubby little wings that inspired the name.  They are less comfortable with humans than the species listed above.  That is not necessarily bad news, because their threat displays are both funny and impressive.  At 4 inches long, these mantids are impressive hunters of good sized prey items.  Just don’t handle them as often as Chinese and African varieties or they will not live as long as they might otherwise.

Feeding these hunting species

All three of these species will readily eat whatever is presented to them, if they are hungry.  The Budwing needs a little extra observation because they tend to overeating, which can be lethal.  The Chinese and African varieties will not hunt and eat if not hungry, but the Budwing will. 

Moving food is preferred for all of these species, so crickets, roaches, moths and butterflies are all good choices.  Meal worms or superworms can be offered if they are pierced first and then offered with tweezers. These species are some of the easiest to care for and are all good for beginners.

Calm, Cryptic, Passive, and Extravagant in Design

Ghost Mantis – Phyllocrania paradoxa

ghost praying mantis

These wacky creatures live up to their scientific name that implies a paradoxically plant appearing cranium.  It can even be hard to tell just where the eyes are. These are ambush predators and as such they are more shy and retiring.  They are also harder to keep than the species mentioned above.

Ghost mantises prefer flying insects throughout their entire lifecycle, and this, plus a need for higher humidity and temps, can make them a bit harder to manage.  For instance, one experienced breeder recommends:

  • L1 and L2 nymphs:  Should be fed D. melanogaster fruit flies.
  • L3 and L4 nymphs:  Should be fed D. hydei fruit flies.
  • L5 nymph to adult:  Should be fed house flies and blue bottle flies.

(L refers to the number of times the mantis has molted)

The purpose of the crazy hairdo is camouflage, and the ability to blend in with the environment so completely that the meal comes to them.  They will remain utterly still, and will only strike when the unsuspecting insect walks or lands within grabbing distance of them. This is why ground-dwelling prey insects are not good candidates for the ghost mantis. Also, they are prone to being easily intimidated by certain prey insects, especially those they deem too big for them to properly catch and eat. Unlike the hunter/seeker species above, prey items for this pet should be no bigger than the mantis’ head, as their arms are not strong enough to properly catch very large prey insects.

Ghost mantises are tolerant of a wide range in both temperature and humidity.  They should do well being kept anywhere between 65°F and 80°F. Ideally, humidity should stay in the range of 50% to 70% relative humidity (RH).

Maintaining the proper humidity may require once or even twice per day misting.  Most mantises do not like getting sprayed directly, and these are no exception. As always, use spring water, distilled water, or water filtered by reverse osmosis (RO), but do not use chlorinated tap water.

Orchid Mantis –  Hymenopus coronatus

orchid praying mantis

These weirdly beautiful mantids are the hot-house flowers of the popular mantid pets.  Indigenous to Malasia, they need their captive environment to resemble their homeland in all ways.  From furniture, to temperature and humidity, they are the trickiest to manage of the species mentioned in this care guide.  They also display the greatest amount of sexual dimorphism with regard to size. The 3 inch long female is 3 times the size of the 1 inch male.  It makes one wonder just exactly how they manage to make whoopee, but somehow, they do.  The female will plainly need a bigger habitat than the male.

For the needs of this animal, a bioactive arrangement is probably the best bet for its maximum longevity, because it is going to need humidity high enough to cause sanitation problems otherwise. Live plants and micro fauna (e.g., springtails and isopods) will help eliminate the mantis' waste and food scraps, and reduce the buildup of mold and bacteria that can make your mantis ill.  The addition of a silk orchid or two, along with the live plants, will make this critter feel right at home.

Temperature & Humidity for Orchid Praying Mantis

The ideal temperature for an orchid mantis is 80°F to 85°F.  Humidity should be kept between 60% and 80%. Younger nymphs seem to be less tolerant of lower humidity levels than adults. Nymphs should be kept at the higher end of the humidity range, between 70% and 80% RH, otherwise they will have trouble molting successfully.  Ventilation is also very important in the nymph stage, and even more important in the later stages of adulthood, as they will become more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections as they age. 

Depending on the amount of ventilation, the enclosure should be given a light misting at least once a day.  Use the water sources as recommended above.

Feeding Orchid Praying Mantis

Orchid mantises prefer flying insects throughout their entire lifecycle.  The items mentioned for the Ghost mantis are also suitable for this species, with the addition of the occasional moth or butterfly being a welcome treat. Unlike most mantises, Orchids benefit from being fed honey, or a mixture of honey powder and bee pollen at least once a week. Easy administration of this food supplement can be done by dusting feeder insects with pollen, just as you would dust the food items of a reptile with calcium powder.

Please note - Acquisition of tropical species can be problematic in some places.  Many states consider it illegal to own a non-native mantis, and yet there is no enforcement.  It is possible to acquire a permit in order to keep them in most states.  The real problems seem to come when trying to import them into the US from a foreign supplier.  Getting caught doing this can result in anything from a slap on the wrist via letter from the regulating agency, to a $1,000 fine.  If you have your heart set on any of the tropical species, look into the permit and then try to find a breeder as close to you as possible.  Some will ship, some won’t, so it’s probably best to work it into a road trip for yourself and a friend.  Mini-vacay to go pick up the mantis, woohooo!  Again, to be able to make an informed decision, it’s best to talk to local fanciers in your state.  In Colorado, terrestrial invertebrate possession is not regulated.  But if I lived in the upper mid-west, I might find it to be a different matter. And in California and Florida I would most certainly want to talk to the local fish and game officer to be sure I was on the correct side of the law!

Many keepers simply order an egg case through the mail.

Monitor the habitat temperature prior to placing the egg case inside to make sure that it is stale at around 75° F, plus or minus 2 degrees. If the temperature oscillates or does not remain near optimum, it won’t kill the nymphs, but it can take longer for them to hatch. Mist the habitat once a day (or as needed when the habitat becomes dry) with room-temperature spring water. Hatching can take 2 to 8 weeks at optimal temperatures. Each egg case my contain up to 150 nymphs that will emerge all at once, however, many will die in the first couple of weeks of life so don’t worry about a mantis invasion. 

Housing – General rules for all species above

Although not requiring a ton of a space, all of the above species will need a terrarium or other type of habitat that is at least 3x longer than the its adult body length, as well as being 2x wider than the body length. This will ensure that the mantis has plenty of space to walk around in and to use when it shed’s its exoskeleton (molt).  So if you have a Chinese adult female who is 4 inches long, you would need an enclosure for her that is 12 inches by 6 inches.  My personal opinion is that this is fine for the ‘stealth’ models, but for the hunter/seeker type, this may be a bit too small. Also, because all of the above species hang upside down to molt, the enclosure needs to be at least 2x the body length high, and of course, 3x would be better.

The type of substrate used will depend on hunter/seeker vs. stealth. Most stealthy/ornamental mantids come from humid tropical environments, and will need to have that setting recreated for them for perfect health.  Even with good ventilation, sanitation may become a problem, so a bioactive arrangement may be the best choice. The hunter/seeker sort require less humidity and lower temperatures, as a rule, and so the enclosure can be more spare. Paper towels on the bottom will be sufficient. As long as they are changed weekly. It is important to know the specifications recommended for the species that you select as your pet, as they all differ slightly from one another.  

When not using a bioactive substrate, anything that will absorb water and not mold easily is suitable. For example: vermiculite, potting earth, shredded wood, pieces of bark or sand are all acceptable choices. The purpose of the substrate is to release water slowly, thus keeping the humidity in the tank a bit more constant.

Praying Mantis Furniture

praying mantis habitat

All species will require furniture that goes all the way to the top of the enclosure. Fill at least 1/3 of the airspace of the enclosure with branches or other objects for the mantis to sit on or hang from. Small branches, reeds, stiff dry grass, fake plastic flowers or plastic decorative vines are all possibilities. Make sure the objects are safe for the mantis, e.g. without glue or insecticides, and that there is plenty of space left for the mantis to move around.

One consideration for an abundantly furnished enclosure is that of prey items. Sometimes the prey gets away.  If this happens too many times in a row, and the prey items hide so well that you don’t notice them and assume they have been consumed, your pet may starve. Therefore, when feeding your mantis, make sure she actually eats the food provided. Watch until she has caught the prey. Besides, this a at least half the fun of owning one. If you possess a species that is hesitant on the strike and you are pretty sure she is not getting sufficient food, you can offer the food with tweezers directly to the mantis. If you do this skillfully the mantis will grab the live food item directly from the tweezers and will start eating instantly. Prey that moves a lot, like flies, will generally be caught much more readily than prey that hides, like cockroaches or caterpillars.

Molting

These insects grow quickly and therefore need to molt frequently.  Molting may take place between 9–15 days after the last molt, so it may seem as though your young mantis does little else. A mantis requires 7–9 molts to reach adulthood. 

Each molt is a time when extra misting is necessary. The molting process can go wrong and sometimes results in death if the old exoskeleton or the mantis’  habitat is too dry. Mantises tend to stop eating a day prior and for 1 day after molting. They will need to suspend themselves upside-down inside the habitat, and for this reason most keepers prefer a tiny mesh screen that the mantis can suspend itself from.

Feeding Nymphs

Feed flightless fruit flies to the nymphs for the first few weeks of life, starting 1 to 2 days after emergence. Feed every other day for the first 2 to 3 months. Note that mantis nymphs will begin to cannibalize each other after about a week unless they are separated. Continue to mist the habitat daily or place a watering station (shallow dish with sponge or cotton balls) inside the habitat, as the nymphs will actively seek and drink water. Try to freshen the water daily because fruit flies will also be attracted to the water source and will foul it. 

Once the mantis has completed its 5th molt, you may begin to supply cricket nymphs to the hunter/seeker types. Wait until after the 7th molt to provide adult crickets as food because a strong cricket can easily attack and kill a mantis.  The ornamental tropicals may need small flying insects at that stage, that can be supplemented a little at a time with larger items. Again, the ornamental sort do not fancy crickets and roaches, and these can actually be a hazard to them, so supply the correct flying insect prey items only.

Both nymphs and adults need water daily.  Misting nymphs twice and adults once is usually sufficient.  If you choose to mist adults twice daily, every day, you can dispense with a water bowl. If you live in desert areas, be sure to monitor temperature and humidity daily, as these creatures are fairly sensitive to extremes and de-hydration and can actually die overnight from neglect. 

Mantids are generally easy to care for pets, with the exception of humidity.  Humidity that is consistently too high can lead to fungal infections of the eyes and exoskeleton and even shut down the digestive system.  Blackish fluid being exuded from the mouth is a sign of digestive illness.  By lowering the humidity for a while, and feeding prey items with little in the way of hard shells, the mantis may recover.  On the other hand, humidity that is consistently too low may cause a solitary female to become egg-bound.  If for some reason she does not lay her ootheca (egg case) in a timely manner her abdomen begins to swell.  If the humidity is too low it cannot stretch enough and my explode before the ootheca emerges (gross).  For this reason a hygrometer may be a valuable tool, not just in helping the keeper to maintain the correct humidity for the majority of the time, but to permit the keeper to increase or decrease humidity in a controlled manner for specific purposes for a short time.  

A bit of minimal care and attention to environmental factors will keep this fascinating creatures alive for your enjoyment far longer than they would survive in the wild, and the effort will be well worth it. 

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