Praying mantises are an interesting group of insects in the order Mantodea that make fascinating pets. There are more than 2400 species of mantis found around the world, particularly in tropical climates. They are harmless and make good pets for children and adults alike due to their ease of care and interesting behavior. If you wish to keep a praying mantis as a pet are are just a few important things to keep in mind.
This section covers praying mantis setup details such as location, enclosure types, decoration, substrate, and more.
Your mantis enclosure should be placed in an environment free from drafts and extremes in temperatures. Bright and indirect light is best, so avoid keeping your mantis in darkness or in direct sun.
A mantis enclosure should be large enough for your mantis to move freely. In nature mantises spend most of their time climbing in foliage, and as such vertical space is very important for mantises. A mantis enclosure should be at least three times taller than the length of the mantis, preferably taller. The length of the enclosure should be around three times the length of the mantis, as well. Mantises kept communally should have even more space, however, to prevent cannibalism.
Glass or acrylic terrariums, jars, and net cages are all good choices for mantis enclosures. Mantises like to climb and as such a cage made of mesh allows mantises a lot more surface area upon which the mantis can climb, as well as allowing for better ventilation. At the very least, however, you should plan on using a mesh lid for your mantis to allow the mantis to hang upside-down for molting purposes.
Mantises need an enclosure with places to hide, hang, and climb. Mantises need places to hide, particularly if they are in a communal setting. Mantises prefer to hide in greenery, real or fake. It is better to somewhat match the color of the mantis species you are keeping, as mantises will become very stressed if they do not feel camouflaged.
Mantises also need places to hang upside-down and to climb. Many species of mantis spend time hanging upside down, and most need to hang upside-down to molt. The lid should be made of mesh, to allow the mantis to hang down from the top. There should be branches in the enclosure reaching to the lid, to allow access to the mesh.
Mantises can be kept on a variety of substrates. The best substrates for mantises include:
- Paper towels: moisture absorbing, but easily soiled and must be changed regularly.
- Coconut coir: moisture absorbing and maintains humidity.
- Soil: moisture absorbing and maintains humidity. Soil must be sterilized in an oven or microwave before use, however, and must be free of pesticides and fertilizers.
- Bark: dries much faster than coco coir, but still absorbs moisture. A good choice for mantises who like drier conditions.
Different species of mantis will require different temperatures to thrive and breed. Heat can be provided with a heat lamp or a heat mat. If you do use a lamp make sure your mantis does not have access to the bulb itself, which can cause burns if touched.
Humidity & Ventilation
Keeping the proper humidity levels and ventilation is absolutely vital to the health of your mantis. Low humidity can cause molting problems, while excessive humidity can lead to mold and fungal disease. Humidity requirements will vary greatly depending on the species of mantis. You can measure humidity levels with a hygrometer and adjust the humidity accordingly.
The best ways to adjust humidity, aside from using a water-absorbing substrate, is misting and water dishes. You will want to regularly mist your mantises, at least once per day. Mantises drink much of their water from the surfaces of leaves. Humidity can also be maintained by sinking a dish of water into the substrate. Fill this dish with gravel or sand, and then add water. The gravel prevents the mantises from drowning, but allows them to drink. Water will evaporate and increase the humidity of the enclosure.
Ventilation is also incredibly important, as improper ventilation combined with high humidity leads to mold. Keeping a mesh lid on your tank, rather than a glass one, will make sure you are able to keep the enclosure airy.
Mantises are carnivorous. In nature they would feed on a wide variety of invertebrates and sometimes small lizards and birds. In captivity, however, it is best to raise mantises on a diet of insects.
Choosing feeder insects
It is generally not safe to capture insects outdoors to feed to your mantis. Wild insects can carry pesticides, bacteria and parasites that can kill your mantis. It is a good idea to either raise your own insects or purchase them a pet shop or private breeder. You should choose feeder insects of the correct size, as well. The insects you feed should not exceed 1/3 the size of the mantis you are trying to feed. As a result, young mantises will often need to eat very small food items until they grow larger. There are a variety of feeder insects you can feed mantises:
- Cockroaches: a great foundation for a mantis diet. They are high in protein and there are a wide variety of species. Cockroaches are easy to breed and if you breed them yourself you can choose roaches of the correct size for your mantis.
- Crickets: crickets are a healthy feeder insect, but are a bit less easy to breed and are loud and stinky. If the cricket is too large it can also attack your mantis, particularly if it is just left in the cage.
- Mealworms & Superworms: these insects are known for causing intestinal blockage when fed in large amounts and are also fairly high in fat. Feed sparingly, if at all. They are very easy to raise, however.
- Fruit flies: an excellent food source for young mantises. They are small and easy to culture. Larger mantises will not eat them, however.
- Flies: difficult to culture, easy to escape their enclosure. Flies are an excellent food for mantises, however, and some can be cultured (like soldier flies).
- Moths: moths are not easy to culture, but can serve as a decent food source for your mantises.
How often to feed
Mantises generally do not need to feed every day. Food is best offered with forceps, to ensure your mantis actually catches the food item, though active insects like flies can be released directly into the enclosure. Very small mantises will need to eat every day, but adult mantises will only need to be fed every few days. Mantises can survive up to a week or two without food, though this is not recommended.
Interested in keeping other insects with you mantis? This section will teach you what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to mantis tank mates.
Most species of mantis should be kept alone, as they will happily cannibalize mantises of even the same species. There are, however, some species of mantis that can be kept communally. Because cannibalism is possible even in these species, it is a good idea to keep mantises in a communal setting well-fed. You should also provide many hiding places and lots of vegetation for your mantises to hide in.
Some examples of communal mantises include:
- Ghost Mantis (Phyllocrania paradoxa)
- Wandering Violin mantis (Gongylus gongylodes)
- Devils Flower Mantis (Idolomantis diabolica)
Perhaps the best companions to mantises are colonies of cleaning organisms. Isopods, springtails, and some species of cockroaches and millipedes make excellent terrarium janitors. They will spend most of their lives in the substrate of your tank, consuming mantis waste, leaves, and the substrate itself and as such cleaning the tank. They will not bother your mantis, and your mantis will likely not bother them.
Mantises do not produce much waste. It is a good idea to remove mantis frass (poop) when you see it, as well as any remnants of dead insects. This should prevent mold formation, which can make your mantis sick. Substrate that begins to mold or smell should be removed and replaced.
If you want to hold your mantis, it is extremely important to do it the right way!
Picking up your mantis
Mantises are very fragile creatures and most mantis injuries occur during handling. This is why it is so important to handle your mantis in the proper way and avoid handling your mantis unnecessarily. The best way to hand your mantis is not to grab it, but instead to let it crawl onto your hand. The best way to do this is to flatten your hand and lightly press against the front legs of the mantis. It will likely climb onto your hand. You can also convince a mantis to climb onto a stick or other implement instead of your hand.
Can mantises hurt you?
Unless you are the size of a cricket, mantises are essentially harmless. Mantises generally do not display much aggression towards humans, though some will give warning displays if threatened, so the way most mantis attacks happen is when the mantis mistakes a human finger/hand for food. The forelimbs of a mantis are equipped with fierce spines, meant to grab and dispatch insects. In the largest species these spines are capable of piercing human skin, though not of causing any kind of serious injury. Mantises are perceptive animals, as well as being intelligent by insect standards, and are generally not likely to attack you. If your mantis does attack you, however, the worst outcome would simply be a small scrape or puncture. Mantises are also capable of inflicting a bite, though their bite generally cannot pierce through human skin. The bite of a mantis can be startling and can raise a welt on the skin, but mantises are not venomous nor can they transmit disease.
Health and Disease
Here are some key details you should know about common mantis health issues.
The greatest danger to captive arthropod health occurs during molting. Mantises usually hang upside-down to molt, and if they do not the right enclosure they may be forced to molt in an unusual position. This can result in the death of the mantis, or at least very difficult molting. Low humidity also makes it difficult for a mantis to molt. If your mantis has a difficult molt you should try to increase the humidity of the enclosure. Small pieces of exoskeleton can be gently removed with tweezers if they are loose enough.
Mantises deal quite well with losing wings, limbs and antennae. Young nymphs will often also regenerate broken or lost limbs within a few molts. The loss of a forelimb can definitely make the life of a mantis more difficult, however, as it will not be able to feed properly. You will likely need to hand-feed it living insects so it does not starve. Serious bodily injuries are often fatal, however, which is one of the reasons you should handle your mantis with care and feed it food of the right size.
Pesticides can be deadly for a mantis. It is not a good idea to feed mantises insects that may have come into contact with insecticides, so avoid collecting insects from suburban or agricultural areas. Also keep in mind that some cities spray for mosquitoes. Make sure your windows are closed on spraying days and do not bring greenery into your mantis enclosure that might have been treated.
If humidity is high and ventilation low, fungus thrives. There are many kinds of fungi, most of which are harmless for your mantis, but certain fungi are pathogenic on insects and can kill your mantis. Moldy conditions can also kill mantises, and certain molds can infect mantises as well. If you suspect one of your mantises has a fungal infection there is likely not much you can do. Separate the mantis far away from your other pets and keep it warm. You can feed it water from a syringe to keep it hydrated.
Bacterial infections in mantises are uncommon but can be rapidly lethal. The most common reason pet mantises get bacterial infections is because they consume feeder insects that have been contaminated. Bacterial infections are often fatal, and as such prevention is the best way to stop your pet mantis from getting sick. Choose your feeder insects carefully, and preferably raise them yourself on clean food.
Some mantises, particularly older ones, suffer from a strange behavioral condition in which they repeatedly rub their head and eyes against their enclosures. This can result in damage to the head, eyes, and antenna. Often this damage is permanent unless the afflicted mantis is a nymph, which might be able to molt out of the damage. There is no known cure for this condition beyond giving the mantis a larger enclosure, changing the decorations, and providing proper care conditions.
Overfed mantises, mantises kept in too low of humidity, and those who do not consume enough water are at risk of intestinal blockage. A mantis with an intestinal blockage will almost certainly die, so it is important to prevent it from happening. Certain feeders, like mealworms, make blockage more likely and should only be fed sparingly. Make sure you feed your mantises a variety of feeders. Flies and cockroaches have more chitin, which serves a function similar to fiber, and can help your mantis defecate properly.
Mantis lifespan depends greatly on the species, how often they are fed, and the temperature. Frequent feedings and excessively high temperatures tend to shorten the lives of mantises. Most commonly-kept species of mantis live anywhere from 7 months to over a year with good care, females tending to live longer than males.
Aging mantises will often display unusual behaviors, like repeatedly rubbing their heads against their enclosures or confusing their keepers for food, which is a normal part of old age. They will begin losing gripping ability, lose appetite, and lose mobility. If your mantis appears to be suffering it is probably more humane to euthanize it by placing it in the freezer, which will slow its metabolism to the point of death.
Breeding mantises is a tricky but very interesting endeavor. Most mantises will cannibalize their mates and as such it is important to be very careful about how you introduce a male and female mantis.
To lessen the chances of cannibalism it is best to choose two mantises of roughly the same age. You should feed the female extremely well, which may make her less interested in eating her mate. One trick is to hand feed the female a very large insect, and then introduce the male. Keep the female distracted until the male mounts the female. The male will sometimes mount the female for hours before mating happens, so give them time. Once the male dismounts, separate the two of them as soon as possible.
Once fertilized your female will lay her eggs in a special sac called an ootheca. Give the ootheca around 3 days to harden before removing it to a special container. Different species of mantis require special ootheca care, with some temperate species requiring a period of cool temperatures before eggs hatch.
If you take proper care of the ootheca it will eventually hatch into many tiny nymphs. These nymphs are very fragile, but will generally not cannibalize until they are a bit older and as such they can be kept together. Most mantis nymphs will happily eat fruit flies. As the nymphs grow larger you will need to separate them out into separate containers to avoid cannibalism.
Mantises are legal to keep in most states. Mantises native to an area, or those that have naturalized, are legal to keep as pets in all 50 states. If you wish to keep a species of mantis not native to your area, however, be sure to check with your local laws to ensure you are keeping your mantises legally. Some states and cities have ordinances against keeping exotic pets that may make pet mantises illegal.