Mantis religiosa, known more commonly as the European Mantis, is considered to be one of the most widely distributed mantis species of all.
According to the IUCN it can be found on all contintents “except Antarctica and South America”.
The European mantis has a traditional appearance, and can be found in both green and brown forms in the wild.
There are two features which help to make this species rather unique.
The first of these is an obvious black dot under the “chest” at the base of the front legs. This is often – but not always – surrounded by a white ring. Identifying this species – especially as adults – is therefore not difficult.
The other unusual thing about Mantis religiosa is that it seems to have an ear half way down their body. It is technically defined by one scientist as a “tympanal auditory organ located in the ventral midline of its body between the metathoracic coxae”.
One final factoid worthy of mention is that scientists have recorded the European Mantis “calling” for mates by releasing pheromones into the air.
The experts found that adult females do not start this activity until a month or so after their final moult.
Tests showed that these pheromones act as a “mating call” to males – who actively approach the females producing it, but ignore those who don’t.
Perhaps even more interestingly there is evidence to suggest that the females stop producing these pheromones after mating, suggesting that this helps to not only attract mates, but to also maximize the male’s chances of success by focusing their efforts only on unmated females.
While the European Mantis may be a surprisingly common one, therefore, it is also a thoroughly interesting one! Growing to around 8cm or so in length, this is a great praying mantis for beginners as it is easy to care for and very forgiving of a wide range of environmental conditions.
Wild Habitat of the European Mantis
Originally described by Linnaeus in 1758, as the name suggests this species hails originally from Europe.
It is to be found throughout warmer of the more southerly countries, and can normally be found from the middle of France southwards.
Since then, however, it has slowly been introduced around the world. Part of this range expanse may have happened by accident, as the egg cases (oothecae) were accidentally transported on plants or timber.
Just as likely, however, is that Mantis religiosa has been deliberately released; it represents an excellent source of biological control when released into a greenhouse.
Traditionally the oothecae hatch in spring, and the youngsters then spend the warm summer months feasting and growing.
In late summer the European Mantis has it’s final moult, and then sets about mating.
As the temperature drops the adult mantids slowly succumb to the weather, while the eggs remain safely protected within their ootheca. Studies have shown that Mantis religiosa egg cases can keep eggs viable even when attacked by frost and snow; quite an impressive feat.
Cages for European Mantis depend rather on the size of the specimen you buy; hatchlings clearly will be happy with far smaller cages than adults.
As a general rule of thumb, the cage should be at least three times as tall as your mantis is long, and at least twice the length of your mantis in both width and depth.
Many people keep mantis in tall, thin cages as a result, which works well if you have included enough twigs that your mantis can move around with ease. Longer cages may alternatively be used, so long as it meets the suggested dimensions.
For adults, a range of plastic or glass containers may be used. Small fish tanks, for example, can work well. Faunariums are another popular and low-cost option, with the added bonus of a “trap door” in the lid which helps to make feeding easier without the need to remove the whole lid.
For my money, however, my preferred cage for adult praying mantis is a suitably-sized Exo Terra glass terrarium.
These look absolutely fantastic, and particularly when used with one of the lighting hoods, really set your praying mantis display off a treat. Under such conditions I often “landscape” the cage, using moss, dead leaves and artificial plants to create a stunning display for each of my adults.
Juveniles can be kept in anything from plastic jars to Really Useful Boxes.
Whatever option you choose, you should be certain that the cage chosen is:
(a) Escape proof
(b) Offers suitable ventilation
(c) Is easy to heat
(d) Is of suitable dimensions
It should also, ideally, offer you a great view of your pet too. This way you can enjoy the magic of watching your mantis going about it’s day.
Watching a European Mantis hunting, feeding, moulting and mating can all be very memorable experiences; all the better if you can do it from the comfort of your living room!
In most situations a praying mantis requires just two items of tank decor. The first of these is a substrate on the base of the cage, though some keepers omit even this for hatchling mantis.
Personally I like to use a small piece of moist kitchen towel. This not only helps to gently increase the humidity – as youngsters seem to be particularly sensitive to drier conditions – but also makes cleaning much easier.
Just remove the paper, wipe the cage clean and set it back up again.
In adult mantids I tend to graduate to something rather more attractive, as a key element in keeping and breeding mantids for me is producing a beautiful cage that I can enjoy admiring.
For larger mantids, therefore, I tend to use coconut fibre, though any reptile-safe substrate which effectively moderates humidity will be suitable.
The second aspect of tank decor required for Mantis religiosa is the provision of a perch.
Most European mantis prefer to rest off the ground, so providing anything from a range of twigs to a cage lid that your mantis can rest upon is wise.
Heating European Mantis
European praying mantis appreciate a warm “Mediterranean” temperature cage, which typically means a hot spot of around 25’C.
As stated previously, egg cages may survive much colder weather, but a mantis kept warm will normally live longer and grow faster. Without heating, most specimens will die in the cooler months.
A reptile heat mat is normally the cheapest and easiest way to provide artificial warmth for your mantis. Keep a close eye on the temperature provided for the first few days, using a reptile thermometer, to ensure that one end of the cage is reaching the desired temperature, while the other end remains rather cooler.
This temperature gradient is most easily achieved by heating just one half of the cage, and leaving the other without.
Mantis religiosa is reasonably forgiving of a wide range of humidities, though extra care should be taken when a moult is on the horizon.
It is normally easy enough to predict this, as juvenile mantids will get visibly “fatter” as time goes on. Some will look almost like they’re going to burst. Then, suddenly one day you’ll find they refuse their food.
Normally within a matter of days you’ll get home to find your mantis has grown considerably, and a ghostly, paper-like old skin is to be found.
Some mantids may eat this, but more often than not it falls to the floor as is ignored.
The best way to offer moisture to your European Mantis is to spray the cage with a houseplant spray gun a couple of times a week.
Watch closely after misting and you may well find your praying mantis drinking delicately from the droplets. This moisture will of course evaporate slowly in the warm environment of a praying mantis cage, raising the humidity.
As stated previously, ventilation is also an important consideration for praying mantis; a stuffy cage with minimal air movement is best avoided.
As a result, be sure that the cage is drying out properly between spraying, or improve the level of ventilation to facilitate this.
Feeding European Mantids
The European Mantis is a carnivore. This means they eat other animals, and virtually anything that can safely catch is potential dinner for them. In captivity this normally means a wide range of feeder insects, from crickets and locusts to mealworms and blowflies. I like to try and vary this as much as possible to offer a full range of vitamins and minerals to my mantids.
Mantis religiosa tends to have a healthy appetite, which is often tied to the temperature. In warmer weather you may find that your mantid’s appetite increases considerably.
Rather than recommending a specific feeding regime it is normally best to slowly develop one of your own, based on how your mantis responds. As a general rule, start feeding your mantis twice a week.
If they always seem to be hungry then consider increasing the frequency of feeding, or offer them more food at each sitting.
Note that as with other mantids, livefood should not be left in the cage for long periods of time as they can annoy your pet. I personally remove anything remaining after a few hours.
As you will no doubt be aware, praying mantis have a nasty habit of eating one another. This is particularly problematic in the breeding season, where studies have found that almost a third of males (31%) get eaten by the female during mating.
What is rather interesting is that males seem to be positively attracted to females that are currently eating something; it’s almost as though she’ll be less interested in eating the male if she’s already part way through eating something else.
This means two things; firstly, Mantis religiosa should always be kept separate unless you want to risk cannibalism.
Secondly, if you ever try to breed this species, consider introducing the male while his mate is busy dusting off a locusts or cricket; not only will the female look more appealing to him, but there’s also a better chance that he’ll make it out in one piece!
European Mantis Handling
Mantis religiosa is a good praying mantis for anyone wanting to handle their pet.
The species is reasonably calm, and even if it does try to grab your finger with it’s front legs this is rarely a painful experience due to their relatively small size.
For keepers who would rather not handle their mantis, there are a range of other ways to transport your pet.
Possibly easiest of all, the twig on which they are resting can simply be removed entirely from the cage, with the insect still attached. This can then be placed into a second cage.
Alternatively, European mantids can be gently “herded” with a pen or paintbrush, encouraging them to step into a plastic tub, where the lid can be gently placed on top.
Remember that the adults have wings, and the males is particular can fly quite well.
As a result, keep windows closed when handling adult specimens to prevent any unwanted escapes.