Praying mantis make fascinating and generally easy-to-keep pets but one common question asked is about how safe it is to handle these fascinating insects.
The first point to appreciate is that mantids have incomplete metamorphosis which means the younger praying mantis look much like the adults (unlike a butterfly which has complete metamorphosis where the caterpillar looks distinctly different from the adult insect).
Besides size the only real difference in appearance between adults and juveniles is that adult mantids have fully-formed wings whilst the immature praying mantis generally only has small bud-like wings.
Therefore it is worth bearing in mind that adults – and in particularly the slimmer, lighter males – can fly quite well making handling rather more of a challenge. More care should therefore be taken with adult mantids if you choose to handle them – keep windows and doors shut and if you need to move them it can be a good idea to coax them onto a stick and then move the stick at which point your praying mantis should feel more comfortable and be happier to stay put.
Younger mantids can’t fly and so are easier to handle in general.
The next point to consider is that some praying mantis can jump a considerable distance and so once again care should be taken to remain calm while holding them and furthermore that it is wise to handle them over a bed or similar object so that if they make a leap for freedom they won’t fall too far and damage themselves.
But besides the safety of the mantis, what about your own safety? We know that praying mantis are predators and have not only strong jaws which they use to consume live insects but also sharp front legs which they use to catch the insect in the first place.
Can these front legs damage you and do praying mantis bite?
The front legs of the mantis are covered in tiny needle-like projections though these are rarely used as a form of attack on humans. In over a decade of keeping mantids I have only been “grabbed” a couple of times and there is no real discomfort so in my own experience there is really nothing to worry about on this front – particularly if you are handling juveniles.
So do praying mantis bite? Quite frankly the answer is that if stressed then yes mantis can bite. They have powerful jaws designed for ripping through the tough exoskeleton of their prey so you can feel it when they try to bite. Whilst not agony it can feel like a pin-prick on your finger.
However praying mantis rarely bite unless they feel threatened. You can safely coax most mantids onto your hand and allow them to run over your skin without any problems. It is only if you grab at a mantis and it feels as though you are a predator that is going to attack them that they are likely to try and fight back.
In general remaining calm and gentle most praying mantis are perfectly safe to handle and you have little to worry about when it comes to getting bitten.