Idolomantis diabolica, the devil’s flower mantis, is perhaps the most stunning species of mantis available in the entire hobby. It belongs to the mantis family Empusidae and is native to several countries in Africa, most notably Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. It is one of the most difficult mantises to keep alive in the hobby, however, with very specific needs that can cause mortality if not met.
This species is one of the largest mantis species in the hobby. Males top out at about 4 inches long and the females can grow to even larger sizes, up to 5 inches long. The males are very easy to distinguish from the females, as they have distinctive feather-shaped antennae and are smaller in size. The devil’s flower mantis is very beautiful, as they mimic flowers and vegetation, and are covered in ornamentations designed to mimic leaves. They have a large shield on their back when full grown and are usually white and green in color. Most beautiful, however, is their amazing threat display.
The devil’s flower mantis is an incredibly attractive one, especially when it is upset. It normally mimics a flower, but when startled will put on a fierce threat display meant to startle potential predators with bright colors and complex patterns. This is known as a deimatic display, essentially a bluff meant to frighten or distract, and in the case of the devil’s flower mantis this means an intense pattern of black, red and blue on the raptorial forelimbs.
The devil’s flower mantis makes this display often as it is a very skittish species. It is very easily stressed and will make threat displays or flee in response to almost any stimuli. As such, they do not take handling well and need a stress-free environment. This species is a keen ambush predator, waiting at flowers for passing insects. This species has exceptionally powerful raptorial forelimbs and has been known to decapitate prey with a single attack. They are fairly finicky about their food, feeding exclusively on flying insects, and will not pursue prey.
This section shows you how to set up a mantis enclosure the right way.
The devil’s flower mantis is an easily stressed species that should be kept in a quiet location, away from other pets, vibrations, and regular traffic. Keep the devil’s flower mantis out of direct sunlight, but make sure they are exposed to indirect bright natural light. Day and night cycles are very important for mantis development, so make sure if you do not use supplemental lighting that they will be exposed to day/night cycles. Because the devil’s flower mantis is sensitive to cold you should keep it far away from anywhere with cold drafts.
The entire mantis family Empusidae lacks the ability to climb smooth surfaces. Mantises need to climb and must hang vertically to molt so the devil’s flower mantis should not be kept in glass and plastic terrariums. They should instead be kept in enclosures made of netting or mesh, with no more than two sides being smooth. Due to their huge size, this species of mantis will need an enclosure that is at least 16 inches tall above the substrate. The lid, in particular, should be mesh and the mantises should have an area free of obstruction where they can hang vertically from the top of the enclosure.
The devil’s flower mantis needs vegetation to feel comfortable. They are not picky, however, and will happily climb on fake plants or live ones. You can attach artificial plants to branches and sticks to allow them a better place to climb. You can use live plants if they are sturdy enough, either kept in a pot or planted directly into the substrate. Because this kind of mantis is so large and skittish you should ensure that all decorations in the tank lack sharp or pointy edges. It is best to prop a stick or branch on one corner of the enclosure to allow the mantises to reach the lid for molting. You can secure this branch with caulking or glue.
You should use a substrate in your devil’s flower mantis enclosure. There are many types of substrates you can use. A good substrate will be absorbent, not soil or mold easily, and help keep a stable humidity level in the enclosure. The substrate for a devil’s flower mantis should be on the heavier side to maintain the high humidity this species needs without fostering mold growth. The following are popular choices:
- Paper towels: paper towels can be used if no other option is available. They become dirty very quickly and must be changed often, however. They also do not maintain the humidity levels that the devil’s flower mantis needs.
- Coconut coir: coir is sterile and absorbent. It absorbs water and maintains humidity very well and is also very easy to find.
- Soil: soil can carry disease mold but is absorbent, cheap, and allows plants to grow. It also holds on to water very well. If you use soil in your devil’s flower mantis enclosure you should sterilize it first in the microwave or oven. Make sure you choose soil that does not contain fertilizer or pesticides.
- Bark: bark is a poor choice for this species as it does not maintain humidity.
The devil’s flower mantis is very particular about heating. This species likes it hot: ideally you would keep them at a steady 95 degrees Fahrenheit. They begin to suffer when the temperature dips too far below 85 degrees and can suffer from heatstroke if the temperature stays above 105 degrees for too long (though they can handle stretches of time hotter than this as long as nights are cooler). You can keep the temperature up by using a heat emitter, heat lamp, or heat mat. Keep a thermometer in the enclosure so you can regularly check the temperature, as you may need to use multiple lamps or mats to keep the temperature high. If the power goes out you need to act fast and insulate the tank. Keeping a backup power source is a good idea if you suffer from frequent power outages.
Humidity & Ventilation
The devil’s flower mantis needs high humidity, particularly because this species is already one susceptible to molting issues. You should keep the humidity well above 40% at all times, but will need to increase the ventilation if the humidity goes above 60% to prevent mold. High humidity is actually beneficial for this species but it is important to increase ventilation as well. Humidity should be tracked with a hygrometer. Because this mantis requires so much heat maintaining humidity will be a challenge. To maintain the proper humidity you should mist as often as needed, at least twice a day to allow the mantises to drink. If the humidity dips down you should mist more often. You can also keep a shallow dish of gravel, filled with water, sunk into the substrate. This will help keep the enclosure humid.
The devil’s flower mantis is very particular about what it eats. The most common way they feed is by snatching flying insects out of mid-air in a startling display of speed, especially given their large size. The devil’s flower mantis will not pursue prey and will not eat terrestrial insects like crickets or roaches unless incredibly hungry. The best food sources for your devil’s flower mantis are detailed below:
- Fruit flies: when the devil’s flower mantis is a newly-hatched nymph, fruit flies are the only food they will likely accept. You can move from the smaller Drosophila melanogaster to D. hydei after the L1 instars molt into L3. They are easy to culture and readily available, as well as being safe and nutritious.
- House flies: house flies are generally a bit smaller than other feeder flies. You should rear your own flies to prevent disease transmission. It can be hard to source house fly pupae on the internet, however.
- Bluebottle flies: these can serve as the primary food source for your devil’s flower mantises. Avoid feeding wild-caught flies to prevent disease and pesticide exposure if possible and rear your own or purchase them online.
- Moths: moths are also a good food source for the devil’s flower mantis but are fairly hard to source. The most common feeder moth, the silk moth, does not fly when mature and thus will not be readily eaten by the devil’s flower mantis.
The devil’s flower mantis is a heavy feeder and should eat around every two days. You can place fly pupae directly into the enclosure, where they will hatch into adult flies, or you can catch adult flies (a rather difficult endeavor). You should not keep too many flies in the enclosure at once, however, to avoid stressing the mantises. Nymphs should be fed daily with fruit flies until they are large enough to consume house or bottle flies.
Looking to keep other inhabitants with you Devil’s flower mantis? This section teaches you what you should and shouldn’t do.
The devil’s flower mantis tends not to be cannibalistic with members of their own species of a similar size. You can keep the devil’s flower mantis in groups of similarly-sized individuals. If conditions are right they will breed freely, however, and the adults will consume nymphs so it is best to remove the oothecae if you want to rear the offspring to adulthood.
Mantises of different species should not be kept together. Other than a high chance of cannibalism, each mantis has different care requirements. A sensitive species like the devil’s flower mantis has very specific requirements that many other mantises could not handle.
You can keep your devil’s flower mantis with so-called cleaner organisms that will consume frass and mold. These creatures can be very useful in the hot and humid types of enclosures the devil’s flower mantis is best kept in. Examples of these organisms are small non-climbing cockroaches, isopods of all kinds, millipedes, and certain beetles. The devil’s flower mantis will not bother these terrestrial organisms and they will not bother your mantises.
You should not keep the devil’s flower mantis with any organisms aside from their own kind or small cleaner organisms. Vertebrates and other insects will generally cause your mantises significant stress and can injure or kill your mantises.
The devil’s flower mantis is a very sensitive species that stresses extremely easily. When stressed, these mantises will often either make a deimatic display or run. When these mantises flee they often move quite quickly, do not pay attention to where they are going, and can easily fall. Falls can cause serious injuries and potentially death. The stress caused by frequent handling can also cause molting and feeding issues as well. As a result you should try not to handle the devil’s flower mantis if possible. If you really need to handle your mantis, perhaps when you are cleaning the enclosure or moving mantises to a new enclosure, move calmly and deliberately. Move the mantis by slowly presenting the mantis with your hand or an object and allow the mantis to climb onto it. Keep your hand or a container underneath them to prevent falls. Move the mantis to a holding container or their new enclosure slowly and, if you are moving them to a new enclosure, let the mantises acclimate to their new home without any disturbance for a day.
This section covers common issues that you should look out for when keeping a Devil’s flower mantis.
The devil’s flower mantis is very susceptible to molting problems. They need high humidity and high temperatures and if these conditions are not met, even for a few hours, they can suffer from mating issues that will lead to their death. Nymphs in particular will die in large numbers if conditions are not correct, often causing entire generations to be lost. You need to keep your devil’s flower mantis in a very high humidity with good circulation. If you notice any mantises having trouble molting, immediately up the humidity by misting much more. If you are successful in breeding your devil’s flower mantis, pay great attention to the environment the nymphs are kept in and keep the humidity very high.
Because this species is not a voracious feeder you will likely not run into overfeeding issues unless you introduce a large number of flies into a very small enclosure or feed food like cockroaches or mealworms, which only very hungry devil’s flower mantises will accept. Overfeeding can manifest itself as intestinal blockage, bloating, and lethargy. Blockage, in particular, is often fatal. To prevent overfeeding you should simply not feed them inappropriate foods. Colonies of mantises will almost never suffer from overfeeding-related issues, however.
Bacterial & Viral Disease
Because this mantis prefers to eat flies, a surprisingly clean food source when cultured at home, bacterial and viral diseases are not a huge issue in this species. If you force this species to consume cockroaches or crickets it is possible, however, so you should avoid using these insects as feeders.
Fungus & Mold
The devil’s flower mantis does not suffer from as many fungal issues as many other species of mantis, as they prefer high humidity. This does not mean that it can’t happen, however, which is why it is crucial to provide the proper ventilation. This species should be kept in netcages for multiple reasons, ventilation being one of them, which should help quite a bit. Remove moldy substrate when it appears and make sure you remove frass from the tank to prevent molding and fungal growth.
The devil’s flower mantis is a skittish species that is very prone to injuries. It will often just run away when startled, crashing into enclosure decorations and falling off of high places. These injuries can easily be fatal for this species of mantis. That being said, mantises in general can survive the loss of a limb or two. Nymphs can regenerate lost limbs and antennae through molting, though it can take multiple molts before the limb appears normal again. Adult mantises, however, are generally unable to regenerate limbs as they have finished molting. If they are only missing a limb or two, they will adapt and likely do just fine. If any mantis loses a raptorial forelimb you will likely need to hand-feed it, however, and if it is missing both you should euthanize it. A mantis missing both forelimbs will be unable to feed itself or move normally.
The devil’s flower mantis can injure itself when fleeing, causing not only missing limbs but also injuries to the actual body of the mantis. Bodily injuries very often lead to the death of the mantis, which is why it is so important to avoid these kinds of injuries in the first place.
Lifespan and Euthanasia
Possibly related to the large size of this species, the devil’s flower mantis is a fairly long-lived mantis. It will usually live around one year with good care. As mantises age they will show some signs of aging, often losing strength, having trouble climbing, and developing vision issues. If an elderly mantis is having serious health issues, age-related or otherwise, it is probably better to euthanize the individual. You can do this by placing the insect in a container and placing this container into the freezer.
The devil’s flower mantis is a fairly simple species to breed in concept, provided you can keep the adults alive until they reach adult size, but often very difficult in practice. This is because of the anxious nature of this species and females will often become very stressed when mantis males are introduced to the enclosure. To complicate matters further, mating will sometimes trigger cannibalistic tendencies in the female who will then kill and eat the male. To breed this mantis you will need to follow a few steps:
- Keep this mantis in small groups of males and females of a similar size and age.
- Keep these breeding groups very well-fed.
- Do not disturb the mantises any more than necessary.
- Do not wait to see mating, as it is often a nocturnal activity.
- If you see oothecae, remove them from the enclosure or move the mantises to a new one.
If conditions are proper for mating you may encounter some amount of cannibalism, which is what feeding them well aims to prevent. Because adults will consume nymphs you should rear the nymphs separately. Feed the nymphs fruit flies each day until the grow larger and keep them in similar conditions to the adults. Nymphs are very sensitive to humidity and molting issues are very common, so keep a close eye on the moisture in the enclosure.