The spiny flower mantis, Pseudocreobotra wahlbergi, is a small mantis from sub-Saharan Africa that is well known for being easy to care for while also being spectacularly beautiful. It is a graceful and deadly ambush predator that, despite spending much time in wait, displays a wide variety of interesting behaviors. The spiny flower mantis is hardy and a good choice for someone looking for an interesting, attractive mantis that is a bit more unusual than the most common species without the difficult care requirements.
The spiny flower mantis is perhaps one of the most beautiful mantises in the world. When spiny flower mantis nymphs hatch they are jet black in color, which lasts until the 3rd instar. They molt into an orange color, which gives way to the adult coloration. The adults are mostly white with brilliant green accents on each segment of the legs and body. Their eyes are a light purple color, but perhaps most stunning is the large black and yellow eyespot on the top pair of wings. This species is fairly small, at around 1.5 inches once fully grown.
When the spiny flower mantises feels threatened it can put up an incredible display. They raise both pairs wings, displaying their two amazing eyespots on their upper wings. Their lower wings are a bright yellow, likely as a means to accentuate the eyes. The whole display is a protection mechanism to frighten predators, birds especially, by mimicking the appearance of a larger predator.
When not making threat displays, however, the spiny flower mantis is a fairly quiet and well-camouflaged, usually perching itself on a few certain species of flower that it most resembles and feeding on the insects that visit as well as spiders that feed on them. They tend not to actively pursue prey unless very hungry and prefer to hunt by ambush.
This section covers everything you need to know about setting up a spiny flower mantis enclosure.
The spiny flower mantis prefers a quiet place with bright natural lighting. Because you will need to use supplemental heating, a room temperature location will be fine. Place the enclosure somewhere where it will not be exposed to vibrations, moisture, cold drafts, and extreme heat.
Mantises need sufficient room to hang upside-down to that they can molt properly. It is best to house your mantis in an enclosure that is at least 3 times taller than the mantis is long. In the case of the rather petite spiny flower mantis, the height of the enclosure should be at least 4.5 inches tall, preferably taller.
The spiny flower mantis is best kept in either a netcage or a glass terrarium. They prefer good airflow and lower humidity, meaning that the netcage is probably the best choice. The mesh will also allow the mantis to climb on the walls. If you choose to keep spiny flower mantises in a glass enclosure you will need to place a mesh lid on the top so they can hang vertically. You need to make sure they can climb up to the lid, however, by propping a stick in the upper corner of the cage.
The spiny flower mantises like a warm, somewhat dry enclosure with significant vegetation cover in which they can hide. Because the spiny flower mantis like to feed by waiting by flowers you can place artificial flowers, preferably white ones, in the enclosure. Make sure any sticks and branches in the enclosure do not have sharp edges to prevent injuries, though the spiny flower mantis is not a quick-moving insect and not prone to falls or injuries.
You should keep your spiny flower mantis on an absorbent substrate that will moderate the humidity in the enclosure.
- Paper towels: paper towels must be replaced often, as they soil quickly, but are simple and affordable.
- Coconut coir: coir is affordable, sterile, and safe. Coir is excellent at absorbing humidity, but can harbor mold if it is too wet.
- Bark: bark is a good choice for the spiny flower mantis, as it is drier than coir. It is also attractive and easy to keep clean.
The spiny flower mantis prefers warm conditions. You should use a heating mat or lamp to keep the enclosure around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the heating element on one side of the enclosure so the mantises can self-regulate by travelling from one end of the enclosure to the other. Make sure your mantises cannot reach the heater, however, as direct contact can cause burns.
Humidity & Ventilation
The spiny flower mantis does not tolerate high humidity. You should install a hygrometer in your mantis enclosure to keep track of the humidity. The ideal humidity range for the spiny flower mantis is between 40 and 60%. In this species it is far better to have humidity that is too low than humidity that is too high. If the humidity exceeds 60% for too long, the spiny flower mantis can become susceptible to a variety of fungal and bacterial diseases. Because these diseases are so often fatal it is imperative you manage the moisture in the enclosure well. You need to keep your mantises in a netcage or a terrarium with a mesh lid to allow for excellent airflow.
Mantises require daily misting so that they can drink, the spiny flower mantis included. This will increase the humidity of the mantis enclosure which is why ventilation is so important. Also be sure to avoid spraying the mantis directly, as it can cause stress.
The spiny flower mantis is a fierce predator for its size, with powerful forelimbs capable of taking on relatively large prey. It greatly prefers to eat flying prey, which is what it would consume in the wild. Flies and moths are the best foods for this species, but if nothing else is available they will consume any insect they can catch. There are a variety of prey items you can feed your spiny flower mantis:
- Fruit flies: spiny flower mantises are extremely small when they first hatch and will need to consume fruit flies until the L5 instar. Fruit flies are easily cultured and readily accepted by larval mantises.
- Flies: flies are the best food to give to your spiny flower mantis. Flies are quick and easily escape enclosures. The most commonly used species, bluebottle flies, are also somewhat difficult to culture in your home, though it is possible. It is best to purchase them online as pupae. Pupae store well in the refrigerator and can be warmed up and directly placed in the substrate of your mantis enclosure, where they will hatch into adult flies. You can also use black soldier flies, which can be cultured in the summer in an outdoor compost bin. Pupae are easy to harvest and will hatch into flies you can feed to your mantises.
- Moths: spiny flower mantises will also happily feed on moths. Moths of the correct size are hard to source, however, and it is not a good idea to capture moths from the outdoors as they may be infected with disease or contaminated with herbicide.
- Crickets: you should avoid feeding crickets to your spiny flower mantis. They are not a preferred food source, as the spiny flower mantis prefers flying food, and they can transmit diseases to your mantises.
- Mealworms: do not feed the spiny flower mantis mealworms. They are excessively fatty and easily cause digestive blockage.
- Cockroaches: most mantises accept roaches readily. The spiny flower mantis will eat appropriately sized roaches, but they are not their preferred food. Because the spiny flower mantis likes to wait to ambush prey, you should offer cockroaches with forceps or else the cockroaches may just hide at the bottom of the cage and not be easily found by your mantis.
Mantises do not need to eat every day, as feeding too frequently can be harmful to mantis health. Try to feed your adult spiny flower mantis once every few days. When nymphs first hatch they will need feeding every day, however. Monitor the appearance of your mantis. You do not want a mantis to look too bloated, as some will feed until their abdomen ruptures. Overfeeding also shortens the mantis lifespan and can cause intestinal blockage. You can generally release most prey items into the enclosure and do not need to hand-feed, as the spiny flower mantis, though generally fairly quiet and inactive, prefers to consume flying prey that will move quickly around the enclosure.
Interested in keeping other pets with your spiny flower mantis? This section covers the details of what you should and shouldn’t do.
The spiny flower mantis is a cannibalistic species that cannot be kept with other mantises, including their own species. Females are very aggressive and will happily consume males given the chance. Nymphs of the L4 stage can be kept together, however, though there is still a minor chance of some cannibalism. As nymphs get older the chance of cannibalism increases.
As with most other mantis species, the spiny flower mantis can be kept with small organisms that consume mantis frass (poop) and mold. The spiny flower mantis prefers a drier enclosure, which makes it difficult to find the proper cleaner organisms to live in the tank. Cleaner organisms suitable to keep with a spiny flower mantis are small cockroaches, certain small species of tenebrionid beetle, and dermestid beetles. Your mantis will also feed on these organisms, so make sure you have a breeding colony.
The spiny flower mantis should generally not be kept with any other organisms. Mantises are fragile creatures and larger creatures can harm your mantis. Smaller insects, even if they cannot harm the mantis, will become prey unless they are suitably well-armored. It is better to keep most mantises, this species included, alone.
The spiny flower mantis is a small and fragile species, therefore it is a good idea to keep handling to a minimum. If you must handle your spiny flower mantis it is probably better to allow it to climb onto something, whether it be your hand or a stick, and slowly transfer them to a holding enclosure. Make sure you keep one hand under the mantis to prevent falls.
Health and Disease
This section covers common issues and diseases that you should keep an eye out for.
Mantises are prone to molting problems. The spiny flower mantis prefers drier conditions compared to other mantises and as such can handle lower humidity than most mantises. The most common cause of molting issues in the spiny flower mantis is not having a sufficient vertical space in which to molt. Make sure you provide your mantis with a vertical space at least three times the length of the mantis.
The spiny flower mantis will generally accept as much food as it is offered, so you must be careful not to overfeed. Overfeeding shortens the lifespan of your mantis and in severe cases can cause bloating, intestinal blockage, and even rupture. Avoid feeding your mantis every day unless it is very young and make sure prey items are of the appropriate size for your mantis. If you notice that your mantis is swollen or bloated you should stop feeding for a day or two.
Bacterial & Viral Disease
Bacterial and viral disease can serious health issues in your mantis, but the good news is that they are quite easy to prevent. The best way to avoid infections is to be extremely careful about what kinds of feeder insects you give to your mantises. Crickets and cockroaches, believe it or not, are closely related to mantises and as such feeding infected insects to your mantises can cause infection. It is okay to feed roaches you breed yourself, but avoid feeding your mantises crickets. If your mantis has dark discharge coming from it’s mouth or abdomen it is likely infected with a bacteria. Bacterial and viral infections are most often fatal.
Fungus & Mold
The most dangerous issue that faces spiny flower mantises are fungal infections. Fungal growth is promoted by damp and stuffy conditions, which is why the spiny flower mantis needs a fairly dry enclosure with good ventilation. Fungal infections are almost always fatal, so prevention is key. Use a netcage or a screen lid to promote airflow. Do not mist too much to avoid moisture buildup. Remove frass, as it molds quickly and can cause health issues for your mantises. If you notice the symptoms of a fungal infection, immediately increase airflow to the enclosure and up the heat. Warmth and dryness can help a mantis recover. Offer the mantis water regularly by hand to avoid dehydration.
There are two main types of injuries that can happen to a mantis. Mantis limbs are very fragile and it is quite easy for them to lose an antennae or leg. This generally does not bother them too much, however, and nymphs can regenerate missing limbs within a few molts. Adult mantises have stopped growing and thus have stopped molting, therefore they will not regenerate missing limbs. Any mantis missing a raptorial forelimb, however, will have a difficult time hunting and may need to be hand-fed. If you have an unlucky mantis that loses both forelimbs the best course of action is euthanasia, discussed later in this section. This is because a mantis missing both raptorial forelimbs will not be able to feed itself, climb around it’s enclosure, or molt properly.
The second kind of injury is a body injury. The mantis body is generally fairly tough, but well-fed mantises are at serious risk of falling injury because a high fall can cause their abdomen to rupture. Bodily injuries are very often fatal so you should try your best to prevent falls when handling any mantis.
Lifespan and Euthanasia
The spiny flower mantis has an average lifespan of 6 months, though some can live up to a year with the proper care. If you want your mantises to live longer avoid keeping the temperature too high and do not feed too often.
As mantises age they may begin to suffer from the effects of aging. They may lose limbs, suffer from worsening eyesight, and lose grip strength. This is normal, but if it begins to cause too much suffering for your mantis you should consider euthanasia. You can euthanize a mantis suffering from disease, sever injury, or age-related deterioration by placing them in a container in the freezer.
The spiny flower mantis is not an easy mantis to breed, mostly due to the extreme aggression the females show towards the males. They will attack and consume males if given the chance, which requires special measures to protect the male.
- The two mantises should be well fed in the days before mating, the female especially.
- Choose two adult mantises of a similar age.
- Remove the male at any sign of aggression and try the mating again at a different date.
- When introducing the male you should distract the female with a large prey item.
You can distinguish males and females by looking at the wings and the antennae. The male have thicker antennae and wings that extend well beyond the abdomen. The female has thinner antennae and wings that are just a tiny bit shorter than the abdomen. The female produces a sac of eggs known as an ootheca, which can give birth to around 50 nymphs. The ootheca is very sensitive to moisture and should be kept in similar conditions to the adults to prevent molding. When the nymphs hatch they will need to be fed with very tiny prey items, fruit flies being the most common choice.