Praying mantis are some of the most recognizable insects in the world. Best-known for their specialized front legs, which are lined with spines, praying mantis are master hunters.
Combined with their large eyes and movable head, their unusual, alien-like appearance has endeared them to naturalists and exotic pet keepers alike.
Praying Mantis in the Wild
Praying mantis are a surprisingly successful and diverse group of insects, found on almost every continent save for the coldest. They are to be found in Africa, North and South America, Australasia and Asia.
Only in northern climes, with their particularly cool weather, is the praying mantis absent. The European praying mantis, one of the most widely distributed species of all, may be found in France, for example, but is absent from the UK.
Food & Feeding
Praying mantis are carnivorous, and are best described as ambush predators. Mantis will often be found sitting motionless above ground level, either sitting on blades of grass, or in other foliage.
Rather than actively hunting down prey, they will normally sit motionless for large periods of time until a suitable prey item wonders past. Most often praying mantis feed on invertebrate prey in the wild, though there is some evidence that they may also take small rodents and birds if they can be successfully subdued.
In captivity, praying mantis keepers tend to rely exclusively on insect prey, which can be bought from reptile shops or ordered from specialist breeders online. The size of the praying mantis will generally dictate the type of food that is most suitable.
For hatchlings tiny prey items such as fruit flies (Drosophila) and hatchling/pinhead crickets are most suitable.
As praying mantis grow, do too can the food items being offered to them. Larger mantids will happily accept crickets, blowflies and even smaller locusts.
Praying mantis eat regularly. As pets, praying mantis will often eat every day or two, and of course the more food that is made available to them the faster they will grow.
Note that praying mantis generally will not drink from large bodies of water. In the wild you won’t find a mantis drinking from puddles, while captive mantids rarely use a water bowl.
To maintain moisture levels the praying mantis owner should be prepared to gently spray their cage with a house plant mister several times a week. Your mantis will then drink from these droplets.
Housing Praying Mantis
Selecting a suitable cage for your praying mantis is critical. Without the right conditions praying mantis can suffer from a range of problems, most notably problems with moulting.
Note: most species of praying mantis are aggressive and even cannibalistic. In most cases praying mantis should therefore be kept separate – one per cage. Apart from a minority of species, keeping two or more together – especially in a small cage – is likely to result in just one very fast and well-fed mantis remaining.
The choice of cage should aim to meet the following requirements:
Escape-Proof – Praying mantis are excellent climbers, and adults can fly so a secure container is critical to prevent escape. Try not to only think about your praying mantis itself, but also take into account the prey that you will be feeding. There is little more frustrating than a cage that contains your mantis, but lets crickets escape and run wild around your house.
When selecting a cage for your praying mantis, therefore, consider any holes that are present. Fine gauze tends to be more successful than larger mesh. A tight-fitting lid is essential to prevent escape, as well as protecting your mantis from other household pets.
Suitable Dimensions – Praying mantis change their skins to grow – a process known as ecdysis.
In order to successfully moult a mantis will attach its rear legs to a surface, split open the old skin and slowly “slide” out to reveal the new larger skin. This has important repercussions when it comes to praying mantis cages.
Your mantis cage must be large enough to allow the process; in practise this means the cage you choose should be at least three times as tall as your mantis is long, and at least twice as long. These are, however, the minimum recommended dimensions.
Facilitate Natural Behaviour – Your praying mantis cage should permit natural behaviours wherever possible. As an example, a cage large enough to include a range of climbing apparatus is recommended. In this way, your pet can easily sit above ground, waiting for insect prey to wander past. Cork bark, twigs from the garden or fake silk plants can all work well for this purpose.
Excellent Visibility – Praying mantis are diurnal insects – in other words they’re awake during daylight hours. They tend to use their excellent eyesight to identify and catch their prey. A decent amount of light is therefore recommended in which they can hunt.
In addition, a cage offering excellent visibility also makes pet ownership more enjoyable, as you’ll find it easier to observe and monitor your pet praying mantis. For this reason, clear plastic or glass cages tend to work best.
Easy to Heat – Potential praying mantis owners should be aware that your mantis may well require artificial heat – especially in cooler months. A praying mantis will require a temperature of some 20-25’C in captivity.
A range of different housing options can be successful, ranging from recycled plastic sweet jars through to glass cages like the ever-popular
Temperature & Heating for Praying Mantis
Praying mantis in more northerly climates behave rather differently to those in tropical areas. Whilst the life cycles of tropical species may continue throughout the year, in northern Europe and cooler areas of North America winter becomes a severely limiting factor. In such cases, adult female mantis will lay their egg cases (ootheca) and then die from the cold.
These oothecae, with their soft and well-insulated outer casing, with then protect the eggs inside through the cold winter months. In spring, as the temperature starts to rise, so the baby praying mantis will hatch out ready to start a whole new generation.
Whilst many praying mantis species will survive perfectly well at room temperature in the summer months, in winter most species will therefore require some form of artificial heating.
This is generally most easily provided with a low powered heat mat, which can cost just pennies per day to run. Whatever source of heating you opt for, great care should be taken to ensure that your mantis doesn’t overheat. Heating such a section of the cage is a wise idea, allowing your pet to escape to the cooler end as and when desirable.
Praying Mantis Moulting Advice
Moulting is one of the most critical times in a mantid’s lifecycle. A bad moult can lead to deformities, which can make moving around or catching prey very difficult indeed. In extreme situations the mantis will be so contorted and misshapen that it is unable to complete its next moult, and therefore dies. Preparing your mantis appropriately for a moult is therefore crucial.
Possibly the most obvious sign of an impending moult is a praying mantis that starts to refuse its food. Depending on the size of your mantis it may fast for a few days to a few weeks before the actual act of moulting.
When a moult is imminent extra care should be taken to ensure that your mantises cage provide the space and the warmth required for such an activity.
Some keepers like to spray their mantis rather more frequently, which helps to increase the relative humidity and make moulting easier. Be aware that all live feeder insects should also be removed from the cage, lest they cause problems during moulting.
A recently-moulted mantis can look quite different; not only bigger but also paler, while their old skin may be found hanging in the cage like a ghost. Praying mantis require time to harden their new skin before they recommence feeding. It is often best to leave your mantis alone for a week after moulting, before you introduce food again.
Breeding Praying Mantis
Praying mantis are well-known for their questionable mating habits. Indeed, one of the more common questions received here is why female mantis eat the male during copulation. Breeding praying mantis, as you might imagine, can therefore be a worrying occasion for the mantis keeper.
To breed praying mantis you will of course require an adult breeding pair. Fortunately, praying mantis tend to be very easy to sex as adults, with females being much heavier and more thickset than the relatively fragile-looking males.
A good technique to apply in captivity is to carefully feed up the female mantis for a week or so before mating. In doing so, we hope to dull her appetite somewhat, with the aim of helping the male to survive his ordeal!
Once your female is well fed then it is time to introduce the pair to one another. This is often best accomplished in an extra large cage, which gives the male mantis some room to escape from the females clutches once the deed is complete.
Note that praying mantid mating can take some hours (sometimes all night) so it often isn’t possible to sit and watch, aiming to protect the male once mating is complete.
A good rule of thumb is to place the female on a sturdy twig or branch, then offer her one more cricket to eat. Once she starts to feed, the male can be introduced to the cage, ideally *behind* the female. Here he will creep forward, hopefully avoiding the predatory arms of the female who is too busy with her dinner, and the mating process can begin.
Assuming the male survives he should be removed after the proceedings conclude.
Some weeks later, the female praying mantis should begin to lay egg cases within her cage. These can be left to hatch in situ, but are generally best removed and incubated separately. The oothecae may take a month or more to hatch, but when it does dozens or even hundreds of baby praying mantis will emerge.
These babies can be reared together for a short time – so long as their “rearing cage” has plenty of food at all times and places for the babies to hide from one another.
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Types of Praying Mantis
A range of praying mantis species may be sourced from specialist breeders. Some species are considerably easier to find than others, and some are particularly suitable for beginners.
Information on some of the more popular pet mantis may be found in the articles below: