Praying mantis regularly shed their skin. A baby praying mantis will through a number of moults, getting larger at each shed, until it reaches adult size. Adult praying mantis do not shed their skins after reaching maturity.
When praying mantis are kept as pets it is crucial to support this delicate process. Praying mantis must have enough space to shed their skin successfully. This is why most experts recommend a praying mantis cage that is at least three times as tall as the body length of the mantis, with a width and depth of at least double the body length.
How Does a Praying Mantis Shed Their Skin?
Watching a praying mantis shed its skin is a fascinating experience. The praying mantis will climb up off the ground into a suitable perch. In captivity they may attempt to climb up to the lid of their container.
Once the praying mantis has reached a suitable location for shedding their skin they will anchor their back feet to the spot.
The praying mantis will then hang down from this anchor point. This is a very important phase, because a praying mantis that loses its footing while moulting may not survive the process. You should therefore never attempt to move a praying mantis that you find hanging from a twig or other perch, be that in nature or in captivity.
The old exoskeleton begins to split down the back of the mantis, and the praying mantis slowly slides out of the old skin. It can essentially look like the praying mantis is dropping out of their old skin in slow motion.
Once the praying mantis has fully escaped from their old skin they will sit still for anything between a few hours and a day or more, to allow the new soft skin to fully harden. Once this new skin becomes as tough as the old one then the mantis is ready to continue life as normal.
How Do You Know When a Praying Mantis is Moulting?
Before a praying mantis sheds its skin it will stop eating. This fasting can last for a few weeks, particularly in larger specimens. If you’re keeping a pet praying mantis that suddenly starts to refuse food then this is a good sign that your mantis is probably coming up to molt.
The actual process of molting is also typically quite easy to identify. You will find your praying mantis hanging down from a branch or the lid of the cage by only its rear legs. The mantis may look contorted as it tries to escape from the old skin.
Any praying mantis that looks like it is molting should be left alone to complete this process in peace and quiet. Don’t attempt to move the container or do anything else that might stress the mantis or increase the chances that it will fall. A praying mantis that falls while molting is likely to die.
Praying Mantis Molting Problems
One of the most common reasons for pet praying mantis to die is difficulties during molting. Social media is filled with photographs and stories about praying mantis that have become entangled in their old skin.
The two most common problems experienced are when a praying mantis loses its footing, resulting in the old skin falling to the ground with the mantis still trapped inside. The second reason is that the praying mantis successfully makes it out of the skin, then falls to the ground before it’s new exoskeleton has properly hardened.
A third, less common, option is that a praying mantis does manage to successfully moult, but one or more body parts become trapped in the old skin and therefore don’t harden properly. Legs may be lost, or they may end up bent and unusable.
The most common image is that of a praying mantis part way through shedding it’s skin, lying sideways on the floor of its cage. In these cases the mantis cannot “slide” out of the old skin and so the result is unlikely to be good.
The best idea is to ensure that the praying mantis cage is set up correctly to begin with. This means providing enough space for a successful moult, combined with lots of perches and anchor points from which your mantis can hang.
Is My Praying Mantis Molting or Dying?
A praying mantis that is hanging upside down from the roof of their cage or from a perch is likely to be starting a molt. Given time and patience you should see the old skin split down the back, and your mantis will gently climb out of the old skin.
Sadly, if the mantis falls part way through this delicate procedure then it may land on the floor and be unable to properly escape the skin. In this way your mantis might be both molting and dying at the same time.
Symptoms of a dying praying mantis – such as from old age rather than shedding problems – can include sluggish behavior, a loss of appetite, spending more time on or near the floor of the cage, or subtly changing color and generally appearing duller.
Do Praying Mantis Eat Their Molted Skin?
A sloughed praying mantis skin is packed with nutrients. To preserve these nutrients it is perfectly normal for a praying mantis to eat their molted skin.
That said, not all praying mantis will eat their molted skin. They also won’t always eat all the skin, but may instead focus on choice parts. The sloughed legs, for example, may be ignored.
If you find a ghost-like mantis skin on the floor of your praying mantis cage then you can be sure that your mantis has successfully molted. However if you find your mantis part way through molting, but the next day the skin has vanished then it is likely to have been eaten.
The best way to be certain that your mantis has molted is to observe its size (does it look bigger?) and it’s behavior for obvious changes.
Why Do Praying Mantis Shed Their Skin?
Moulting serves a number of purposes in praying mantis. They allow the praying mantis to grow, to replace lost body parts, to change its appearance and to progress through metamorphosis so they can reach maturity.
Growth – The tough exoskeleton of a praying mantis prevents it from growing like a mammal. Think of it like a child in a suit of armour. Eventually the youngster will need a new larger set of armour. Each time a praying mantis molts it becomes noticeably larger, up until the point that it reaches its full adult size.
Regeneration – Like many invertebrates, praying mantis are capable of regenerating lost body parts when molting. For example, if a mantis has been unlucky enough to lose one or more legs since it’s last molt then these can be regrown.
Depending on the size of the praying mantis the new leg may look just like all the others, or it may appear smaller and paler than the rest. With each subsequent molt, however, this regrown appendage will grow bigger and stronger until you can no longer tell which leg was actually lost.
Appearance – Praying mantis can change their appearance when they molt. In some species the young mantis look like ants and other insects, but as they grow and molt they start to look more like a “real” mantis. Furthermore, some mantis can change color when they moult, allowing them to better camouflage against their surroundings.
Metamorphosis – Praying mantis don’t go through a full metamorphosis process like butterflies and moths. That said, the adults are obviously different in appearance as they have large, functional wings while the juveniles only have tiny wing buds. Molting allows the mantis to grow these new features easily.