Praying mantis are some of the most fascinating invertebrates to look after. With their moving neck and huge bug eyes, not to mention their specially-adapted front legs, mantis look almost like aliens from outer space.
Fortunately keeping praying mantis as pets needn’t be difficult when you follow a few simple rules.
Introduction to Keeping Praying Mantis as Pets
There are estimated to be over 2000 different species of praying mantis. While only a small number of species are commonly available in the pet trade, the care for each species is largely similar.
If in doubt, it is generally wisest to practise your praying mantis husbandry on one of the more common species, and then move up to the more unusual and expensive species as you gain in experience.
Broadly speaking praying mantis live in the warmer parts of the world. They’re found, for example, in South, Central and warmer parts of North America, Southern Europe, Africa and across much of Asia and Australasia.
They’re generally to be found off the ground – sitting almost motionless in bushes and trees – waiting to ambush an insect as it wonders past.
The first step to successfully keeping praying mantis as pets is therefore to try and mimic this environment. Praying mantis will therefore generally need:
- A warm and humid environment
- A tall cage with places to sit off the ground
Get these primary factors in order and you’ll already be well on your way to caring for your new pet.
- 1 Introduction to Keeping Praying Mantis as Pets
- 2 Praying Mantis Cages
- 3 Types of Cages for Praying Mantis
- 4 Substrate
- 5 Furnishings
- 6 Temperature
- 7 Humidity & Water
- 8 Feeding Praying Mantis
- 9 Praying Mantis Pictures
- 10 Praying Mantis Species
- 11 FAQs
- 11.1 Are Praying Mantis Difficult to Keep?
- 11.2 How Long Do Praying Mantis Live For?
- 11.3 Can I Keep Praying Mantis Together?
- 11.4 Where Can I Buy A Praying Mantis?
- 11.5 What Size Praying Mantis Should I Buy?
- 11.6 What Do Praying Mantis Eat?
- 11.7 Why Has My Praying Mantis Stopped Eating?
- 11.8 Do Praying Mantis Have Wings?
- 11.9 How Often Should I Clean My Praying Mantis?
Praying Mantis Cages
The first thing you’re going to need when keeping a pet praying mantis is a suitable cage to keep it in.
This cage should meet a number of criteria:
Praying mantis tend to spend most of their time off the ground, typically hiding in trees and bushes in the wild. For this reason its important that your praying mantis can climb, either up the sides of the cage or up twigs and branches that you’ve added to the cage.
Another important consideration when selecting a praying mantis cage is how they moult. Indeed, the importance of moulting should not be underestimated: a bad moult can leave your poor pet praying mantis disfigured and cause difficulties with hunting.
The most common cause of death among pet praying mantis is simply that they fail to moult properly, so it is essential that you understand the conditions required for moulting.
Generally speaking a praying mantis will attach its rear legs to an object high up in the cage, then split their old skin down the back and gently slide out of the old skin.
If there isn’t suitable room to do this, or your mantis becomes dislodged during this precarious procedure, it may encounter problems. Once out of the old skin, the mantids new skin will begin to harden. If it hasn’t fully emerged from the old skin then you can find praying mantis develop odd body shapes – or even perish during the process.
It is therefore critical that your praying mantis cage is at least twice as tall as your mantis is long. This will allow it to easily slide out of its old skin.
As praying mantis are such accomplished climbers its critical that their cage should prevent escape. This means you’ll need a tight-fitting lid and (especially for baby mantis) no large holes through which they could escape.
Capable of Maintaining Humidity
Besides suitable space, another critical element for a successful moult is suitable humidity. Mantis kept in overly dry environments often struggle to moult properly, leading to health issues. The cage you select should therefore be capable of maintaining some humidity. This means that mesh cages tend not to be as effective as those made from glass or plastic.
As a secondary point, while a humid environment is important (especially at moulting time) stale, stagnant air should be avoided. In a warm and humid cage, mould can grow rapidly. A cage with a degree of ventilation is also therefore advisable.
Easy to Heat
While many praying mantis will cope at room temperature in the summer months, winter is an entirely different matter. It is critical that your praying mantis cage is heated to around 25’C at all times, which is easily achieved with a low-power heating mat (discussed later). This further means that plastic or glass cages tend to be more effective than mesh cages as they keep the heat in better on cold days.
Simple to Access
You’re going to need to access your praying mantis on a regular basis to care for it, so the cage should also make it easy to get in and feed or water your pet.
Lastly, for your own benefit the cage should of course provide an excellent view of your praying mantis. This can make glass or clear plastic cages ideal.
Types of Cages for Praying Mantis
The type of cage you use for your praying mantis will largely depend on the size of the mantis. Baby mantis may only be a centimetre or so in length when born, while adults can easily reach 8-10cm. This means that if you place a baby mantis into an adult cage you’re unlikely to ever be able to see it!
Generally speaking smaller mantis should be kept in smaller cages, as its therefore easier to keep an eye on them. As mantis grow you’ll want to progressively increase the size of the caging to match their growth rate. This means that a single mantis may end up with 3 or 4 different cages during its lifetime.
Fortunately its only larger mantis that require a special cage; for smaller praying mantis its often possible to utilize simple household items as successful cages.
Cages for Baby Praying Mantis
If you’re purchasing a baby mantis then there are a number of options available to you. Here are some of the better options:
Jam Jars & Plastic Coffee Cups
For the tiniest mantis some of the easiest options are clean jam jars or clear-plastic cups – such as those you can buy for water coolers. A small piece of muslin or net curtain material is cut to size and secured over the mouth of the container with an elastic band. The muslin not only gives your mantis something to hold onto (you’ll often find them hanging upside down from the roof) but allows a reasonable level of ventilation.
My personal favorite for tiny mantis are old cricket tubs. These can be bought empty from many reptile suppliers, or if you have other exotic pets around you may well have a number of these tubs lying around at home anyway.
In other words, depending on what other pets you’ve got, these may represent a free caging option. The fact that most cricket tubs also have tiny ventilation holes cut in the sides is another benefit.
The problem with cricket tubs, of course, is that they’re not tall. What I do instead is to line the “bottom” of the cricket tub with clean kitchen paper. I then place the mantis inside and stand the tub up on end. This way not only is the cage now tall, but the mantis can easily move up and down by climbing on the kitchen paper.
Clear Plastic Tupperware
A further popular, if rather more expensive option, are to use tupperware boxes in a similar manner to cricket tubs. The only real downside of this option is that you’ll need to add ventilation to them. This is generally most easily done using a soldering iron in a well-ventilated area, gently melting small holes into the container.
Cages for Larger Praying Mantis
When your mantis reaches a reasonable size you’re going to want to move it into a “proper” cage. Doing so allows you a far better view of your pet than the various starter cages listed above. In addition it allows you more flexibility in terms of cage design, meaning you can “landscape” the cage to look rather more attractive and naturalistic.
My favorite cages of all for praying mantis are Exo Terras. These are glass cages built specifically for exotic pets. They offer a number of distinct benefits:
Gauze Roof – The top of the cage is made of mesh, which assists with ventilation. This lid is also removable, making it easy to access the cage when desired.
Locking Front Doors – Another benefit of Exo Terras are their opening front doors. These allow ideal and quick access to feed your pet, without ruining the view. The doors are also easily locked closed with a simple built-in device, meaning no other pets (or children!) can accidentally open the cage.
Deep Base – Beneath the doors you’ll find a deep piece of glass. This is ideal because it means no substrate will fall out when you open the cage. Just as importantly, when you feed your mantis the insect prey will be “trapped” by the glass lip, rather than being free to escape from the cage.
Easy To Heat – The Exo Terra sits on small plastic feet that hold the glass bottom of the cage a few millimtres off the ground. This makes it easy to slip a heater underneath, without it looking unsightly.
Accessories – There are a number of accessories made specially for Exo Terras. Personally I like to use one of the lighting units which fit neatly on top and perfectly illuminate the cage. This not only makes your praying mantis cage look very professional but also gives you a brilliant view of your pet.
Besides that, they look awesome and provide the best possible view of your pet.
A second option for housing adult mantids are old sweet jars. Try visiting your local sweet shop, where they can often be picked up for next to nothing.
While these sweet jars might be tall and freely available, there are a few downsides. Firstly, access isn’t ideal as you’ll need to stick you hand in the top to do any cleaning or feeding. Secondly you’ll need to make some modifications for ventilation.
A range of suitably-sized glass or plastic tanks are available in the pet trade. Once again you’ll need to consider ventilation; many of the plastic cages have a fully-ventilated lid, and it may be necessary to block some of these holes (such as with a plastic bag) to keep warmth and humidity inside in the colder months. Alternatively if you select a glass tank you’ll want to source a suitable escape-proof lid, as well as spend time thinking about how best to add ventilation to the cage.
Adding substrate to the floor of your mantis cage can serve a number of benefits. For example they can help to retain moisture and to make your cage look far more attractive. Equally, substrates in mantis cages can make cleaning more difficult.
For baby praying mantis I tend to use just kitchen towel for the bottom of the cage. This can be folded to size, does a decent job of absorbing excess moisture and is easily replaced when it gets messy.
For larger mantids, kept in proper cages, there are a number of options available. Some of the best are vermiculite (ideal for creating a humid environment) or peat-free potting compose. Personally I like to use a mixture of these two options, which not only looks attractive but helps to keep the tank humid between sprayings (see later).
Praying mantis don’t require too much in the form of furnishings. Of course, if you opt for a professional cage like the Exo Terra you may want to add lots of furnishings and fit out their cage to look like a mini jungle – and that’s absolutely fine.
At a minimum I would suggest adding one or more twigs to the cage, in order to give your mantis somewhere to sit. Such twigs also allow your mantis to get down to the floor when desirable, such as to catch prey.
Mantis tend not to drink from water bowls so they’re generally considered unnecessary.
As stated earlier, most praying mantis will require artificial heating, especially over the winter months. However this needn’t be complex or expensive either to buy or to run.
The best option for praying mantis is to buy a heat mat of a suitable size. This mat is then left turned on at all times (apart from the hottest days of summer) and provide a comfortable background warmth for your pet.
Personally I’ve started to use these ones to heat my praying mantis and the results so far have been excellent.
Humidity & Water
Praying mantis do need to drink, but they tend to avoid water bowls. In captivity they’re most likely to drink from water droplets on the cage walls.
The best method, therefore, to maintain humidity and to allow your mantis to drink, is to purchase a new house-plant spray bottle. This should be kept just for your mantis, so you can be certain that no harmful chemicals have been used around it.
Then every couple of days give your praying mantis a good spray. You’ll often see your pet gently drinking from the droplets on the cage walls, and over time this water will evaporate in the warmth, providing a suitable humidity for your pet.
Feeding Praying Mantis
Possibly the most exciting and interesting things about keeping praying mantis as pets is being able to watch them hunt and feed. Your mantis, which has sat almost motionless for hours or even days, will suddenly spring to life, turning its head to watch its prey bumbling around the cage. Slowly, slowly, they creep closer until BAM! they grab the poor unsuspecting insect.
Praying mantis are carnivores; they won’t eat vegetables and other plant matter – they need meat. In the wild praying mantis eat a huge range of prey; biologists have found that they’re capable of taking all sorts of animals, including birds and lizards. Basically if it’s alive, moving fast enough to get your mantids’ attention and is small enough to be captured then a mantis will likely have a go. Even goldfish aren’t out of the question…
In captivity, however, praying mantis are most easily fed on live insects. These can be bought from most good reptile stores or even ordered online.
Types of Food for Mantis
There are a range of possible insects that may be fed to mantis, but after trying all sorts of items here are my suggestions:
Flies – If you live near a fishing shop then maggots can make an ideal prey item. Making sure the maggots aren’t bleached or colored in any way, bring them home and put them in your fridge. This will slow down their development, meaning that a small tub can last a long time. All you need to do is take a handful of these maggots and place them in a plastic container with a little substrate. Within days they’ll turn into little brown or black pupae.
The pupae tub can then be placed into your mantis cage. Within a few days these pupae will hatch out into adult flies, which your mantis can then catch.
Of course, there are some downsides to feeding flies. Firstly, they make a lot of people feel “icky”. Secondly, you’ll want to avoid opening your mantis cage while there are flies in there or your house will soon be full of them. Lastly, you’ll need to plan well ahead, regularly taking some maggots out of the fridge so they can pupate and hatch out.
In other words while this isn’t a prey item for the squeamish or the disorganized, it can be a cheap and easy way to feed small mantis. Larger mantis will, however, likely require something bigger to eat.
Crickets – Crickets are possibly the most popular form of livefood among exotic pet keepers. As a result they’re cheap and freely available. Simply open the tub and tip a few into the cage.
There are, however, a number of downsides to feeding crickets in my experience. Firstly, crickets will spend most of their time on the floor of the cage; they don’t tend to climb. This means that not will your praying mantis need to come down towards the ground to feed, but in larger cages he or she won’t necessarily even notice the crickets running about far below them.
Secondly, escaped crickets can be a nightmare; especially in warmer weather. A lose track of just how many nights of sleep I’ve lost thanks to a noisy escaped cricket that has managed to get somewhere inaccessible like behind a radiator or under a floorboard.
Thirdly, crickets are one of the more dangerous prey items when your mantis is coming up to moult (see below).
Locusts – Of all the potential prey items its locusts that I use most often. They’re available in a huge range of sizes, they’re easier to handle than crickets, don’t make any noise and are more likely to climb up vegetation and twigs too. This makes it easier for your mantis to catch them.
How to Feed Your Mantis
It’s difficult to overfeed a mantis so generally speaking you should aim to feed your mantis as much as it will eat. Generally speaking I aim to feed my mantis every day or two. Put in an insect or two and watch to see if they get eaten. If so, try feeding more next time. Over time you’ll you’ll develop a pattern, knowing roughly how much food your mantis will eat and how often.
It is good practise to not leave food in the cage at all times as this can cause problems when moulting…
Important Note on Moulting
When praying mantis are coming up to moult (which they’ll do a number of times as they grow) they will normally go off their food for anything between a few days and a week or more.
If your mantis suddenly stops eating, and you’re confident that the environmental factors are right (temperature and humidity) then you can be reasonably certain that your mantis is coming up to a moult. This is especially so if your mantis has been visibly gaining weight recently and looks a little “tubby”.
Moulting is one of the most critical times for your mantis – and hence you as the keeper – so its important to get things just right.
Under such circumstances insect prey can cause an issue, such as by:
- Accidentally knocking your praying mantis off its perch while it is moulting
- Nibbling at your pet while it is soft and defenceless
- Generally causing annoyance during this sensitive phase
As a result you should aim to ensure that no livefood is present in the cage when a moult in imminent, and also to carefully keep an eye on the humidity.
In time you’ll likely get home from work (or school) to find your mantis freshly-moulted, with its old skin hanging lifeless in the cage.
Give your mantis a few days for its skin to harden properly and then gently try introducing an insect or two. Soon enough you should find your mantis restarts feeding again and the whole process can start again.
Praying Mantis Pictures
Praying mantis are some of the best-looking insects of all. We’ve gathered some of the most amazing praying mantis photos we could find onto a dedicated Pinterest board. Simply click on any of the pictures below to see it in full size – and please consider following me on Pinterest for more exotic pet pictures…
Praying Mantis Species
While there are dozens of praying mantis species that are sometimes available in the pet trade, here are some of the more commonly-available or notable praying mantis species:
Chinese Mantis (Tenodera)
Arguably the most common type of pet mantis kept, Chinese Mantis are typically some of the easiest to keep in captivity. They are hardy and represent very few problems. The adults are large, typically brown in color with a (blue line)? An ideal starter species.
African Mantis (Sphodromantis)
There are masses of different mantids sold generically as “African Mantis“. Most of these come from the genus Sphodromantis and are all similar in both appearance and their care needs.
Personally speaking these are the mantids that I started out with so they have a place very close to my heart. While they may be slightly smaller than Chinese Mantis as adults, the benefit of African mantids is that they come not just in a brown form, but also a green.
It’s just a matter of personal preference, but I always prefer a bright green mantis over a dull brown one.
Dead Leaf Mantis
Certainly a more advanced species of praying mantis to keep as a pet, these insects never cease to amaze. The hint is in the name: the mantis have all sorts of peculiar growths and protrusions, allowing them to camouflage perfectly as a dead leaf.
These are some of the smallest mantids to be regularly kept in captivity. Due to their smaller size they should be considered more of an advanced species. That said, with their stunning patterning it’s little wonder so they’re s popular among pet keepers.
In many ways the “ultimate” mantis. This species can vary between white and bright pink in color which, together with their unusual shape, makes them one of the most unbelievable-looking species of praying mantis available.
Be aware: due to their popularity these are expensive praying mantis to buy.
What follows are some common mantis questions that didn’t fit neatly into the information above. Feel free to ask any further questions you may have in the comments section below and I’ll try to answer them as best as I can…
Are Praying Mantis Difficult to Keep?
Praying mantis are relatively easy to keep if you’re willing to follow a few standard rules. The keys to keeping praying mantis are setting up their cage correctly and proper feeding. This means that it is necessary to invest some money initially – such as on buying a suitable cage and a heater. Once these are in place, however, praying mantis require minimal care.
How Long Do Praying Mantis Live For?
Praying mantis are relatively short-lived insects. Most species only live for a year or so in total, and may only survive a matter of months as adults.
Can I Keep Praying Mantis Together?
Praying mantis are cannibalistic so generally speaking praying mantis should be kept on their own. Attempting to keep two or more mantis together is likely to lead to fatalities – and one fat mantis. There are some minor exceptions however. Some Miomantis species will live together if they are given enough food, while hatchling mantids are generally kept together for the first few weeks of their lives.
Where Can I Buy A Praying Mantis?
Praying mantis are still seen as “exotic pets” so aren’t available from many standard pet stores.
There are a number of places where mantids can be purchased however. These are:
Reptile Stores – Some exotic pet shops stock a small range of mantids.
Exotic Pet Shows – If there is a reptile or invertebrate show near your home then this can be an ideal place to purchase a mantis.
Breeders – Possibly the best source of mantids are the breeders themselves. A number of experts breed mantids on a regular basis and make these available online.
Garden Supply Centers – Some praying mantis can be used as “biological control” as they will eat small pests around the garden. As a result some garden centers and supply companies may offer mantis oothecae, though appreciate that these are only likely to be from the more common species.
What Size Praying Mantis Should I Buy?
In my experience, the smaller the praying mantis is, the harder it will be to look after. Mortality in hatchlings can be surprisingly high so in general purchasing either a larger mantis or an egg case to hatch out yourself is likely to be best. I recommend a minimum size of around 3cm in length.
While adults are the most common size available, it is important to appreciate that their lifespan is likely to be measured in months.
So either select an adult for ease of care (but appreciate they will need to be replaced shortly) or buy a youngster over the minimum size suggested, whereby you’ll have your mantis for longer, but the care might be slightly more difficult.
What Do Praying Mantis Eat?
Praying mantis are carnivores; they need meat to eat. In the wild they may eat anything small enough to catch but big enough to make it worth their while, including lizards, amphibians and even small birds. In captivity praying mantis are normally fed an assortment of live insects such as crickets and locusts.
Why Has My Praying Mantis Stopped Eating?
There are a number of reasons why your praying mantis may have stopped feeding. For example this may be because it is too cold, or the humidity levels are wrong. By far the most common reason, however, is that your mantis is coming up to moult. The only time this isn’t likely to be the case is if you have an adult; adults don’t moult so it could just be old age.
Do Praying Mantis Have Wings?
Adult praying mantis do indeed have wings, which they use to get around. The females are generally far more bulky than males, so they struggle to fly and are far less adept at it. In comparison, the males are typically much slimmer and more streamlined, so find flying considerably easier.
Note, however, that only adults have fully-functioning wings. Hatchlings maintain just tiny “buds” with which they are unable to fly. These grow over time and until they mould out an ad adult with a full set of proper wings. As a result, one of the easiest ways to identify a sexually-mature praying mantis from a youngster is the presence of full-sized wings which extend to around the length of the mantid’s body.
How Often Should I Clean My Praying Mantis?
Praying mantis are very clean animals so require minimal cleaning. If you are using kitchen paper as a substrate then change as necessary; likely once every week or so. For large mantis, kept on other substrates, just keep an eye out for bits of food that have been dropped and remove them as appropriate. When your mantis finally dies of old age simply empty the cage, clean all the equipment thoroughly and then start preparing for your next mantis.