The Ghost Mantis (Phyllocrania paradoxa) is a stunning species, broadly distributed across Africa and Madagascar. The name itself means “leaf head”, and it’s hardly difficult to see why.
These cryptic praying mantids do an amazing job of avoiding predators by resembling plants.
Not only is there an unusual leaf-like projection on the top of the mantids head, but the legs also possess leaf-shaped structures. In nature, these mantids will sit motionless for hours on end, just waiting for a suitable insect to walk just a little too close.
Interestingly, studies of Ghost Mantids in the wild suggest that when disturbed by a potential predator this species tends to simply flatten itself against the branch it is sitting in, so provide even better levels of camouflage.
Ghost Mantids as Pets
The Ghost Mantis is a surprisingly small species, when you compare it with many of the other popular pet mantids (such as the Dead Leaf Mantis) with adult females growing to just 4-5cm in body length.
The males can be even smaller that this, though are easily told part by the number of abdominal segments. While females have 6 visible sections, males have 8, so it is possible to sex this species from quite a young age.
There are a number of factors which have made Ghost Mantids popular as pets.
Besides their unusual morphology, Phyllocrania paradoxa is also encountered in a range of different colour forms.
While most are dark brown, specimens may range between a light sandy brown through to a beautiful green colour. It has been suggested that individual specimens may change colour when they moult (as has been seen in a range of other mantis species), most likely in response to humidity.
A moister environment tends to produce a higher proportion of green mantids, while brown specimens tend to be derived from drier conditions.
The other aspect of keeping Ghost Mantids in captivity is that they can be kept in communities when well fed. While almost all the most popular mantis species should be kept alone for fear of cannibalism, it seems that when suitably fed and caged the Ghost Mantis can be kept in groups.
This, combined with their relatively small size and unusual shape, means that Ghost Mantids can make one of the very best display insects around, where a number of specimens can be housed in a single modestly-sized cage.
Cages for Ghost Mantids
Ghost mantids can be slightly more difficult to care for than other popular mantids due to their smaller size. Particular care must be taken with youngsters, lest they manage to squeeze through small gaps in their cage, or become trapped.
For adults, however, the care is reasonably simple. As with other mantids, it is recommended that the cage used should be at least three times as tall as your mantis is long, and at least twice as long.
For single specimens I like to use a small Exo Terra, which provides plenty of space and allows you to create an environment which is both visually-appealing and highly practical. In such a cage one can add pieces of bark, artificial plants and more to give a very naturalistic appearance.
For communal living, where more than one mantis is kept together, I use a larger Exo Terra.
Note that while my preference is always for Exo Terras personally, as I think they look great and include all manner of practical elements (closeable holes for electrical cables, lockable doors, excellent ventilation) one can use almost any glass or plastic container as long as it meets the following criteria:
Suitable ventilation – No pet insect should be kept in muggy, stagnant air. Doing so can encourage bacteria and fungi to grow, which can be a major factor in how long your Ghost Mantis lives. Whether this ventilation takes the form of a metal grill, mesh or holes, it is important that air-flow should be allowed.
Appropriate size/dimensions – We have discussed the size above, but the specific dimensions are also important. Be sure to select a cage that is many times as tall as your mantis is long, in order to facilitate the moulting process.
Tight-fitting lid – Mantids are adept at climbing, and adults can be surprisingly good at flying. Combined with their small size, it is essential to make sure that whatever cage you select cannot be escaped from.
Easy to clean – Lastly, hygiene in all captive animals is key. The cage you choose should therefore make cleaning and routine maintenance as easy as possible. Some of the very narrow yet tall cages used – such as sweet jars – can make cleaning rather more difficult.
Sourcing the right vivarium is only part of the battle. Next, you need to fit it out appropriately.
Here there are two core elements to consider.
The first of these is one (or more) suitable perches for your Ghost Mantis to rest on. The more of these mantids you keep together, the more different perches you should provide. In this way, your mantids will all be able to have their own personal space rather than vying for the best spot on a single perch.
The easiest perches are simply twigs and branches, which can been immersed in boiling water before use, and scrubbed with a reptile-safe detergent, in order to avoid introducing any pathogens into the tank.
These perches should be carefully positioned in such a way that they:
- Touch the ground, allowing your mantis to come down to hunt if required, or get back up off the ground if it falls
- Provide sufficient space beneath for your mantis to be able to moult successfully
The second element is a suitable substrate. While many keepers – including myself – use kitchen towel or suchlike for young mantis, a substrate such as coconut fibre works well for adults. This looks beautiful, smells fresh and helps to moderate the humidity in the cage.
As mantids don’t burrow, only a small depth is required, especially if you are opting to heat your mantis cage from beneath.
Heating & Temperature
Hailing from Africa, the Ghost Mantis understandably require artificial heating in all but the hottest months of the year. For young mantids, the easiest solution is normally to heat one large enclosure (such as a wooden vivarium) and to then place all the baby mantids within this.
For larger specimens, the cage as a whole can be heated. Temperatures of around 25’C are generally recommended, and is best provided through the use of a heat mat.
This can be placed under the tank, or attached to the side, though you should monitor the temperature within on a regular basis. A temperature which is too far away from this ideal can encourage mantids to stop eating, to cause problems with moulting or to even cause heat exhaustion.
Personally I use digital thermometers, with neat little probes on the end of a wire. The wire can easily be fed into my Exo Terras (thanks to the closeable holes provided just for this purpose), allowing me to consult the LCD display at any time to check on temperature and humidity.
Water & Humidity
Praying mantis seldom drink from a water dish, and an open body of water like this can lead to drowning. Mantids, after all, are not known for their swimming abilities.
That’s not to say that Ghost Mantids don’t drink. While they may absorb a reasonable amount of water from their prey, it is not unusual to find them gently lapping at droplets of rain or dew that they find on plants.
In light of this, most praying mantis keepers dispense with a water bowl entirely, and instead rely on regular misting of the tank. Possibly the easiest way to accomplish this is through the use of a houseplant spray gun. Using lukewarm water (not cold water straight from the tap) the tank should be gently misted 2-3 times a week.
Between those mistings, the water can slowly be left to evaporate, increasing the humidity in the cage and avoiding a consistently “soggy” cage. Humidity in the vivarium can be measured using a low-cost hygrometer, and should ideally remain the region of 60-90%.
Feeding Ghost Mantis
Ghost Mantis will eat almost anything that can overpower. While other mantis may take small reptiles (and some can even catch and eat birds) the diminutive size of this species means they feed almost exclusively on invertebrates.
Many praying mantis are fed consistently on a diet of crickets, with the occasional “treat” such as mealworms or baby locusts. Feeding Ghost Mantis, however, can be a little more challenging.
The reason for this is that many keepers report that younger P.paradoxa rarely venture down to the floor of the cage. As crickets rarely climb, this can result in a cage containing plenty of food, none of which is being eaten by your pet.
There are a number of potential solutions here, but possibly the most effective are to feed these mantids on feeder insects which either climb well (such as locusts of an appropriate size) or fly.
Fruit flies can make ideal prey items for baby Ghost Mantis, while larger flies can become an integral part of the adults diet.