The orchid mantis is one of the world’s most beautiful – and recognisable – praying mantids.
Famed for their unique flower-like appearance, the adult mantids vary in colour between a pure white through to rich pinks and purples.
With their rounded abdomens, spiked heads and petal-like protrusions on the legs it is little wonder that these are one of the most popular pet mantids on the market.
The orchid mantis comes originally from the humid rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia.
Interestingly, in contrast to popular mythology these mantids don’t exclusively feed by camouflaging themselves in the blooms of similarly-coloured flowers. Studies have found that they have no preference when it comes to hunting, and are just as happy to hunt away from floral blooms.
It seems that it is the whiter specimens reflect UV light just like a white flower, meaning that to insects there is little visual difference between a flower, or a mantis just sitting on a branch.
Indeed, one analysis showed that orchid mantids actually had a higher hunting success rate away from flowers than when they are sitting on one.
This wild lifestyle impacts the captive care of orchid mantids, which typically require a generous temperature and high humidities if they are to grow successfully to adulthood.
Housing Orchid Mantids
The first challenge that any praying mantis owner has is setting up a suitable cage. With their intricate exosketeletons orchid mantis tend to struggle more with moulting than many other more-streamlined species. It is critical therefore to ensure that they have the space required to mould effectively.
This means that the cage chosen should be at least three times as tall as your mantis is long, and ideally twice the width of your mantid’s body length.
Orchid mantids are notable for the “sexual dimorphism” shown – that is to say that the adult males and females look very different indeed.
While the females may reach an eventual body length of 6cm, most adult males weigh in at just half this. As a result, this mantis can be successfully kept in quite modest-sized accommodation.
A range of containers may be used if of a suitable size. For example, old plastic sweet jars have been used successfully, as have glass or plastic tanks sold in the pet trade.
For larger specimens my personal choice is one of the smaller Exo Terra vivariums. These are available in an assortment of sizes – including those which are much taller than they are long – ideal for keeping mantids. They also offer excellent visibility of your mantis, are easy to heat and offer excellent levels of control over ventilation. In short, they’re the perfect solution.
The only weakness, if there is one, is that Exo Terras are far from cheap.
As orchid mantids themselves are some of the most expensive mantids on the market, however, I personally believe that this investment is warranted. A large adult female orchid, well displayed in an Exo Terra is truly a thing to admire.
Heating Your Orchid Mantis
Orchid mantids like it hot, so besides the warmest summer weather you’ll need to provide some form of artificial warmth. It is interesting to note that orchid mantids thrive at quite a range of temperatures, varying between 15’C and 30’C. As a baseline a temperature of 24-26’C is most suitable.
The reason for this high variance is simple; as adult males are far smaller than females then go through fewer moults, and so mature much earlier. As a result, many keepers soon find that they’re the proud owner of an adult male, with no female to breed him with. In light of this, many keepers separate out their males and females, giving them different care.
The principle difference is temperature. In brief, the higher a temperature that a mantis is kept at, the more it will eat and the sooner it will mature. As a result, many keepers provide warmer temperatures for their females – to speed up their maturity – and lower temperatures for males to slow them down.
The end goal is that both sexes mature at roughly the same time, and that successful mating can follow.
The easiest way to heat your orchid mantis is through the use of a reptile-safe heat mat. These are almost paper-thin heaters, available in a broad range of different sizes. All provide the same gentle level of background heat. One can then either place the mantis ontop of the heat mat, or stick it to the back or side of the cage.
If it is decided to offer different temperatures to the two sexes there are a range of ways this can be achieved. Firstly, males can be placed into cages with higher levels of ventilation, helping to dissipate some of the warmth.
Alternatively, or additionally, females can be given extra insulation or lower levels of ventilation, such as by using a polystyrene or cork tile behind the heater, which effectively bounces far more warmth into the cage itself.
It is advisable to use a thermometer in order to monitor cage temperatures, and ensure that they are kept within safe limits. personally I use digital combined thermometers and hygrometers, with a probe on the end of a piece of wire. This provides a high level of accuracy and makes for easy temperature monitoring.
Water and Humidity
Praying mantids in captivity very rarely drink from water bowls. While some keepers still like to provide such a resource, most keepers have dispensed with what seems like a pointless piece of equipment.
Where mantids do tend to drink is from water droplets in their cage. As a suitable alternative to an open bowl of water, therefore, it is advisable to use a houseplant spray gun to gently mist the inside the cage two or three times a week.
This not only provides drinking water for your mantis, but as the droplets evaporate it is also raises the humidity – and important step to a successful moult.
Praying mantis don’t require a complex set-up. Indeed, there are really only two aspects that the orchid mantis rearer needs to consider; substrate and perches.
A range of different substrates may be used for orchid mantis. For growing youngsters many keepers use no substrate at all, leaving the floor bare. Alternatively paper kitchen towel works well and is my preferred choice. It does a good job of absorbing excess moisture and is easily removed and swapped for fresh.
As my mantids grow, however, I like to move them to a more naturalistic type of setup. Here I use coconut (coir) substrate or chemical-free potting compost as the base layer of their cage. A small amount of perlite or vermiculite can also be added if required, as these absorbent particles can help to maintain a suitably-high level of humidity.
Please note, however, that while humid conditions are recommended for this species, stale air is not. That means to say that you should be regularly spraying the substrate to keep the cage humid, but that there should be enough ventilation for the air to circulate.
Without this vital element mould and fungus can grow in the cage, making for a thoroughly unhygienic environment for your mantis.
The other critical element for your mantis comes in the form of one or more perches. As orchid mantids typically like to sit up off the ground, in a bush or other plant, it is important to mimic this in captivity.
Furthermore, when a praying mantis moults it attaches it’s legs to a branch and then just slowly slides out of the old skin. Without a perch that is high enough, a mantis may struggle to free itself from the old skin. This is a potentially fatal situation to be avoided at all costs.
It therefore makes sense to provide at least one perch, typically in the form of a twig or branch in the cage. One of the end of the twig should rest on the floor so that your mantis can slowly make their way down if required.
If the cage is large enough then a number of perches may be provided, taking great care to ensure that there is an area of at least twice the mantid’s length beneath the perches, in order to allow for a successful moult.
For many keepers this basic setup is perfectly adequate. However, a small number of keepers like to take things up a notch by creating a more naturalistic vivarium for their orchid mantis.
Here all manner of decor may be used, from moss on the floor to live plants to clamber in. Such a vivarium is really only limited by your budget and creativity, and a well-designed rainforest setup with an adult female orchid mantis is really one of the most attractive displays possible.
Feeding Orchid Mantis
Maybe it’s just me, but one of the most exciting things of all when it comes to keeping mantids is feeding time. I never cease to be amazed by their skills at hunting and catching other insects. If you’ve never kept other mantids before then you’re in for a treat!
Like all mantids, orchid mantis are carnivorous. This means that they’ll need to be fed on a range of different insects in captivity. As with all exotic pets, feeding a range of foods over time is advisable, in order to provide the widest range of vitamins and minerals.
In the exotic pet trade as a whole, crickets of various types tend to be the preferable food. Coming in a range of types – including brown house crickets, black crickets and silent crickets – all may be fed to mantis.
That said, one major weakness of feeding crickets is that these insects rarely climb. For an arboreal insect like a mantis, this can be something of an inconvenience. Basically, you mantis will have to spot the insect moving about and slowly creep their way down the perch to catch them.
Not the end of the world, but mildly annoying.
Fortunately, there are a number of other insect prey items which are far more likely to climb (or even fly). Locusts, for example, are available in a range of different sizes and are far more likely to climb up the twigs to “meet their maker”.
Once can even go a step further and feed a mantis on flies. Many livefood suppliers sell reptile-safe maggots (don’t used bleached maggots from bait shops). These can be left to turn into pupae, before tossing these chrysalids into your mantis cage.
Within a week or two they will pupate, and you’ll find them buzzing their way around your mantid’s cage. Soon enough they will be dispatched with impressive efficiency.
Mantids on the whole are capable of eating some impressively-sized prey items. Personally I try to limit the general size of the items given, to prevent too much of a fight.
Mantids tend to be greedy insects, so can be fed as much as they will eat. Most of mine are fed every day to keep them growing as quickly as possible, though you may opt to feed any males in your collection rather less often to slow down their growth rates.
Lastly, when discussing the feeding of orchid mantids it is important to consider the subject of moulting. Skin changes are really the only difficult part o keeping mantids, where a bad moult really can end disastrously.
We’ve already discussed the importance of a suitable temperature and humidity, together with appropriately-placed perches, but the final part of the jigsaw comes from feeding.
Most orchid mantis will go off their food for anything from a few days to a few weeks before they change their skin. Typically the bigger the mantis is, the longer they will fast for. The same applies after a moult, where many won’t eat for a week or two.
Just as importantly, live insects can be a serious issue for a moulting praying mantis. Some insects, such as crickets, may try to nibble at the defenceless mantis, while others may simply cause annoyance or risk knocking the mantis off the perch.
For this reason no livefood should be present in the cage when a moult is anticipated.
Unlike some keepers, therefore, I find the best method is to carefully monitor the feeding of your mantis.
For example, just feed one locust or cricket per day, and be certain that your mantis eats it before another is provided. In this way it becomes easy to see when your mantis goes off it’s food before a moult.
You will often notice that your mantis is looking rather “tubby” as it has been eating so much, so it is hardly surprising that it needs a larger skin to fit into!
When your mantis stops feeding, make a note to give it extra attention. Be certain that no livefood is left in the cage, and be certain that the humidity is right.
All being well, within a week or two you’ll peer into the cage to find that your mantis has successfully moulted. When this is observed, I tend to leave my mantids well alone for a week or so, so that their skin can harden.
At this point, normal feeding can be resumed, though don’t be worried if it takes your mantis a few days more before their appetite returns after this ordeal!