Tenodera sinensis is one of the more widespread species of praying mantis.
Originally from Asia (hence the common name of “Chinese Mantis”) they have been introduced to other parts of the world. Most notably this species was believed to have been introduced to the USA by a plantsman in the 1890s.
It is now widespread, and may survive even in cold and frosty areas, where the insulative properties of the egg case (ootheca) allow the eggs to survive over winter.
The Chinese mantis has become rightly popular among pet keepers, being easy to look after and breed, which makes them readily available and cheap to buy.
While Tenodera sinensis may be found in a wide range of different colour forms, the brown adults tend to be particularly note-worthy, as they possess a bright blue stripe along the side of the wing.
Growing to some 8-10cm on average this is a good-sized and interesting species that makes an ideal first pet praying mantis.
Like most mantids, Tenodera sinensis typically rests off the ground, where it hunts for any prey it can capture.
Grasslands tend to be particularly popular with this species, but they may also be encountered in bushes, trees and even gardens. This species is believed to hunt more towards the tops of plants, rather than lower down as in some species.
This species is considered to be highly affected by environmental temperature and, by extension, food availability. In cooler areas the eggs hatch in early spring and throughout the summer. A process known as “clumping” has been observed in this species, whereby multiple oothecae in the same area hatch largely at the same time.
It seems likely that this influx of hatchling mantids is an evolutionary adaption to overwhelm potential predators. All the same, studies suggest that 90+% of all nymphs die in the wild, with their first instar being the most dangerous.
Hatchlings will normally remain close to their hatching site, but after their first moult (at L2) they will then begin to disperse.
The mantids feed voraciously throughout the warmer weather, with higher food densities strongly correlated with faster growth and, as a result, earlier production of eggs. The reverse is also true; in cooler years the females may take longer to mature, which consequently results in more deaths from cold as the seasons change.
Mild winters may see oothecae hatching too early, before a supply of insect prey is available, which also has a significant impact on their population numbers.
In terms of mating, studies in the wild suggest that contrary to popular opinion, both sexes are equally mobile. While the adult males are slim and fly well, it has long been known that the heavier and more thick-set females tend not to fly as well.
Scientists have discovered, however, that females travel just as far as males in the search for a mate, but that they tend to do so on foot rather than using the power of flight.
The better-fed a female is, the more likely a male is to survive his encounter; one analysis showed that males of this species have an 83% chance of surviving their first mating, though it does seem their success rate drops over time.
Praying mantis typically moult by anchoring their back legs to a twig or other piece of plant material, splitting open their current skin and then “sliding” out of it. This has severe repercussions for the pet owner.
It is critical that a cage of suitable height is provided for Tenodera sinensis or they may not moult successfully. Problems with moulting are one of the more common causes of death in captivity.
Generally speaking a cage for Chinese mantids should be at least three times the overall length of your mantis in height, and twice the mantid’s body length both in width and depth.
A range of different cages may be suitable for mantids in captivity, and in many cases household objects can be easily turned into a suitable container. Made from plastic or glass, the cage should prevent the escape of your mantis, while still providing suitable ventilation.
For youngsters, deli cups may be used, with a piece of muslin cut to size and fitted over the top with an elastic band.
Alternatively anything from tupperware boxes to old sweet jars may be used if they are of suitable dimensions.
Possibly the most attractive of all the caging options, ideal if you really want to create the most attractive and eye-catching cage possible are Exo Terra glass terrariums.
Coming in a range of different sizes, the Exo Terra not only looks great but also offers a range of practical benefits. They come with a front-opening door for easy access, a metal mesh lid for ventilation and an attractive “artificial rock” background for your mantis to rest on.
What is more, specially-built lighting hoods may also be purchase separately for these cages. The addition of a low-wattage bulb can make your mantis look all the more attractive, while helping to keep them warm during cool weather.
Whatever option you choose, be sure to avoid any potentially harmful chemicals. It is generally best to purchase a cage specifically for your mantis, rather than to re-use household items which may have been exposed to detergents, bleaches and so on.
Very little is needed in the form of decor for your mantis. One critical piece of equipment should be twigs or branches to act as “perches” for your mantis. These should be positioned in such a way that your mantis can make their way to the ground to hunt if desirable, but also have enough vertical height in places to facilitate moulting.
Besides the importance of perches, some form of substrate on the bottom of the cage can help to moderate humidity, as well as making cleaning easier.
For tiny mantids a simple substrate of kitchen towel or vermiculite may be used. These are cheap to buy and easy to replace.
For larger Chinese mantids a wider range of materials may be used. Personally, I like to use coconut fibre, which is a renewable resource, looks great and is excellent at absorbing excess moisture.
Temperature & Humidity
Most praying mantis won’t drink from a bowl, but dehydration is to be avoided. The solution is simple; the cage should be gently misted every few days with a houseplant spray gun.
Purchase a mister specially for your pets to avoid the risk of them being contaminated with chemicals. By spraying not just the perches, but also the walls and back of the cage, not only will humidity increase gently but your Tenodera sinensis will be able to drink from the water droplets.
Chinese mantids tend to do best in warmer environments, where they will eat more and grow faster. In captivity this means that a temperature of around 24’C should be provided; heaters should only be turned off in the warmest of weather.
The easiest way to heat a praying mantis cage is through the use of a heat mat. This can either be placed beneath the cage (where only half the floor area should be warmed) or attached to the wall of the cage (on the exterior).
In warmer weather it can be wise to use a matstat to control the temperature given out by your heatmat to avoid overheating. A thermostat should always be used if you opt to purchase one of the lighting hoods, as even low wattage bulbs can quickly heat up the small cage of a praying mantis.
Lastly, a thermometer should be considered essential for monitoring the temperature within your Chinese mantis cage, ensuring that the “hotspot” remains at a suitably temperature, especially in colder weather.
Tenodera sinensis has a healthy appetite.
In the wild they will eat almost anything small enough to catch. This doesn’t just include the ubiquitous insect prey, but some specimens have even been recorded catching and eating newts and hummingbirds.
This species has even been recorded eating the poisonous caterpillars of Monarch butterflies. Tenodera sinensis was recorded as gently removing the guts of the caterpillars (to eliminate the toxins) before consuming the remainder of the larva.
Interestingly, experiments in the laboratory have shown that nymphs may also accept pollen as a source of food.
It is therefore unlikely that you will struggle to provide food that interests your mantis. Anything from crickets and locusts, to roaches and waxworms will be taken, with mantids only refusing food some days before or after a moult.
It is difficult to overfeed a mantis, so base your feeding volume and regularity on how your Tenodera sinensis responds. If he or she seems to be constantly hungry then consider feeding more food items.
Take note, however, that you should ensure no livefood is present when a skin change approaches, lest they interfere with the sensitive moulting process.
Tenodera sinensis can be safely handled by most people. Try to keep hands flat, and allow the mantis to gently walk across them. Fingers held up like prey infront of them may be “caught” – this isn’t always a comfortable experience.
As a reminder, adults are winged, and males can fly surprisingly well. As a result, take care when handling adults to ensure that your pet cannot make a break for freedom when you least expect it.