There are estimated to be over 1,800 different species of praying mantis around the world though only a very limited number of these are commonly encountered in the pet trade. Specialist breeders may have a better range of praying mantis pets though the standard species – things like the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera aridifolia) – are generally the best place to start.
The more common praying mantis pets grow to a reasonable size which makes their care considerably easier than some of the smaller species like the Miomantis which require very small prey items. They also tend to be hardier and so more forgiving of less than perfect conditions which a beginner may accidentally create.
Other excellent starter species if you find them are the Sphodromantis species, many of which hail originally from Africa, and for our European cousins the European praying mantis also makes an ideal starter mantis.
The general care of praying mantis pets is reasonably simple. They require a container to live in depending on their size. Small mantids can be kept in clear plastic sweet jars which can be very cheap to purchase. I local sweet shop to me sells these for just a couple of dollars each. Larger mantids may require a decent-sized cage or aquarium of around 30cm in all directions.
Praying mantis pets can be stunning to look at and so it is worth spending some time to choose the right housing to properly display them. In the wild praying mantis generally like to sit up off the gound in plants and so adding some twigs for them to sit in is essential. This is particularly so when you consider that praying mantis change their skins and without twigs and a suitably-sized container they may struggle to complete this process successfully.
I have seen situations in the past where conditions were not ideal and a mantis either died trying to change it’s skin or at least came out bent and twisted meaning that even if it survives the mantids days really are numbered. As predators, praying mantis pets need to be in perfect condition at all times if they are going to successfully hunt.
Some background warmth may be required during the cooler months and this can easily be provided with a cheap, low-power reptile heater.
Praying mantis generally won’t drink from a water bowl but prefer instead to drink from droplets of water around their cage. This means that spraying the inside of your mantis cage on a regular basis (daily) with a plant spray gun can be a very good idea. Not only does this give your pet a chance to drink but this will also raise the humidity in the cage meaning that the moulting process should be easier.
The final topic to cover is feeding; possibly the most fun aspect of keeping a mantis. Praying mantis pets require live insects to eat but are not fussy – most insects sold as food for reptiles will be taken including crickets, locusts and waxworms.
Because of this feeding is reasonably simple and tubs of suitable insects can be bought from most good reptile stores. I have seen praying mantis successfully catch and eat huge insects in comparison to their body size but an insect of 1/4 to 1/3 of the length of your mantis works well. They are chunky enough to get your mantids attention – and cause it to stalk the insect – yet not so big that they put up too much of a fight and risk harming your mantis.
Preying mantis cannot be overfed to feel free to feed them as much as they will eat. I generally feed my praying mantis every day and many of them will take several insects in a sitting. Get to know your pet and what it will eat to make your feeding times easier – and prepare for some fun once you put the insects in as watching your mantis stalking and catching it’s dinner can be a fascinating spectacle to observe!