Breeding praying mantis is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable parts of keeping these amazing insects – yet it can also be one of the single most stressful experiences of your life!
As you will no doubt be aware, female praying mantids have a nasty habit of eating the male either before, during or after copulation and so you need to be aware before you try breeding preying mantis that there is quite a reasonable chance that your male may indeed not make it through the ordeal.
On the flipside, with proper preparation there is every chance your male will survive to see another day though it can be a smart idea to have several males available as backup incase your first attempts don’t go quite as you had hoped.
It goes without saying that to start off breeding preying mantis you will need both an adult male and an adult female. It is easy to tell whether your specimens are adults in most species as they will long wings whilst the younger specimens will only have small “bud-like” wings on their backs.
Once your mantids have moulted and are showing full-length wings you can be certain that they are adults, and given a few weeks to harden up after their final moult they should soon be in a position to mate.
Generally females are larger and bulkier than the males and only have limited power of flight whilst the males are generally slimmer and slighter and can fly much better so telling the difference between an adult male and female preying mantis is also typically very simple indeed.
In preparation for mating preying mantis I like to offer the pair as much food as they will take for a few weeks before they are introduced. This not only means that are full of nutrients and will be in the best health possible, but it also hopefully means they will be less interested in eating each other!
A day or two before you plan to breed your praying mantis, stop feeding them and prepare a large aquarium or cage of at least 18″ in length in which to mate them. This can be a plain old tank without many real furnishings though your male should be capable of climbing up the walls to escape the female mantis after the act of mating. The tank should also be heated with a reptile heat mat to create a warm environment for your mantids.
Now we’re ready to try pairing your preying mantis. Remove the female mantis from her cage and place her on a piece of wood of some form. I find a decent-sized piece of cork bark – around 8″-12″ in length works well – and coax the female onto this. Having her on a piece of wood will help you to control the situation and will also allow both the male and female to get a decent grip for the forthcoming act.
Next I offer the female a good-sized live insect. A locust or large black cricket tends to work well – the bigger the better as it will take her that much longer to eat it and keep her attention on the food rather than your poor male.
Once she has caught the insect and is eating it, it is time to carefully introduce your male. Place him on the wood behind the female and gently coax him towards her.
Soon enough the two mantids should become aware of each other – the female may even stop eating for a moment and look round at the male. This is the “make or break” point where, we hope, the male climbs onto the female and starts mating while she goes back to eating her locust.
The male mantids are understandably quite shy and careful about the process so it may take quite some time for him to get into position while your heart beats heavily hoping he gets started before she loses interest in her locust.
Once he is in position you will see his abdomen curl under hers and they will make contact at the end at which point the act of mating will begin. The act itself can take a widely varying period of time – from a few minutes to several hours and this is where having the mantids on a piece of wood, together with having a large cage, come in handy.
You can gently lift up the piece of wood and place it into the cage you prepared and then leave them to it. Check back regularly and if all goes according to plan you should find some time later that the mating is complete and the male is cowering in a corner somewhere ready to be removed to safety.
I try to mate my mantids two or three times to ensure that mating has occurred successfully at which point it is simply a matter of keeping the female well-fed and waiting for her to start laying egg cases.