There’s no denying it; rearing hatchling and baby praying mantis can be challenging.
Generally speaking, the bigger a praying mantis is, the more robust it becomes. While mantis of an inch or so in length become quite simple to raise, the most challenging time for mantis breeders is the period between hatching and reaching this “safe” size.
During this period praying mantis are very fragile and are seemingly suicidal, requiring great care to nurse them through the difficult first few months of life.
In this article we’re going to discuss exactly how to do just that based on my 15+ years of keeping and breeding praying mantis as pets.
The egg cases (oothecae) of many common praying mantis species produce dozens or even hundreds of babies. If you have hatched your own ootheca then logistics can be quite challenging due to the number of mantis in your care.
Whilst praying mantis can be carnivorous, housing 100+ tiny baby mantis separately can be very impractical for many people. You’ll need hundreds of different containers for them, each one carefully heated to the right temperature. Each mantis will need to be fed regularly to keep it healthy; a process that can take some hours after a big hatching.
Bearing in mind how fragile hatchling praying mantis are, and therefore the slim odds of them all successfully reaching maturity, some breeders therefore opt to keep the hatchlings together for a period of time.
In the first month or two some losses will no doubt be experienced, but with suitable volumes of food these will hopefully be minimal. The benefit here is that you need only care for one or two cages of insects, rather than hundreds. This, in turn, can make the whole process more enjoyable and efficient.
Then, when the mantis reach a certain size (for example 2cm body length) they can all be split up to prevent further cannibalism, knowing that these slightly larger mantids now have a much better chance of long-term survival.
In addition, the mantis that have passed away due to natural causes or cannibalism now mean you have a far smaller population to house individually.
Alternatively you may have just bought a few tiny baby mantis from a breeder, in which you’ll have far fewer that need caring for. In this case you’ll want to keep these separate from the start to ensure as many of your mantis reach maturity as possible.
Cages for Baby Praying Mantis
The cage that you opt to use for your hatchling and baby praying mantis depends on your personal circumstances and what is most practical for you.
For initial communal rearing tubs such as large sweet jars can work well, as can glass vivariums sold for tarantulas (though ensure that they have no mesh for ventilation, because hatchling mantis are so small that they may squeeze through the gaps).
More challenging is when mantis are reared individually. Here many people use deli cups, plastic pill pots etc. In essence you’re just looking for small plastic tubs that can be purchased in bulk without breaking the bank.
These can be solid, in which case many keepers like to use a drill or soldering iron to make holes in each container for ventilation. Alternatively, if you opt to use something like styrofoam drinking cups the top can be covered with old net curtain material /muslin before being fixed in place with an elastic band.
A thin layer of substrate in the bottom of the container helps to control humidity, preventing mantids from drowning in large droplets of water.
Praying mantis are naturally arboreal creatures; they tend to settle off the ground and need to be able to hang down to change their skin. This means that praying mantis cages should be at least three times as tall as your mantis is long.
Your mantis should also be able to easily climb up the sides and rest high up. Observe your mantis in their cage and ensure they can move around properly. In many cases I like to add some twigs to the cage, allowing them the opportunity to climb. Attaching some gauze to the inside of the lid and/or the walls of the cage can also facilitate this climbing.
Humidity & Water
Hatchling and baby praying mantis need moisture, but can drown in even tiny water droplets. As a result a very careful balance is required. The substrate can be dampened on occasion but good ventilation is important to prevent water droplets building.
As mantis grow, and reach the point where they can be individually housed, they should have got past the point of drowning in water droplets. Here their cage can be sprayed gently every few days, avoiding spraying the baby mantis itself.
This will leave water droplets from which the mantis can drink, before the cage is allowed to dry out again and spraying re-commences. An open water dish is unnecessary in most instances under these circumstances, and avoids the risk of accidental drownings.
Heating & Temperature
Praying mantis tend to hail from the hotter parts of the world, so unless you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with a warm climate then your mantis will likely need some form of artificial heating in all but the summer months. A temperature of some 22-25’C seems to work well for baby mantis in my experience.
There are a number of ways to provide this. In terms of communally-reared mantis it is quite simple to heat one or two cages with a reptile heat mat. Things become rather more challenging when you have dozens of cages of individually-housed mantis, all requiring some form of heating.
The easiest and most effective solution I have found over the years is to purchase a wooden vivarium, such as those sold for reptiles. These wooden vivariums tend to be quite good insulators, so if a decent-sized heat mat is placed within one then the whole space within the vivarium warms up.
- UPGRADED DESIGN: Temperature can be adjusted manually. POWERFUL FUNCTION: Helps reptile for daily activity, appetite and metabolism. It can keep reptile tank warm without any harm to your pets and also won't disturb animals sleep pattern.
- Durable material: made of high quality PVC material, its soft surface can be flexible and folded. The heat mat is easy to clean, convenient to use and low energy.
- ENERGY-SAVING: This heater uses a solid state nichrome heating element Which only use 8 watts of electricity and costs only pennies a day to operate. HIGH EFFICIENCY: High-quality heating wire heating, stable performance and long service life.
Individual cages can then be placed into the vivarium without needing any further heating. In this way dozens of mantis can be reared using just a single heater.
Food & Feeding
Praying mantis don’t tend to feed initially. This is perfectly natural. Within a few days of hatching, however, they will change their skins for the first time, and thereafter will start eating. The benefit of this process is that when you see your ootheca hatching you know that you should have a few days grace in order to get hold of all the food you’ll be needing.
Hatchling and baby praying mantis are tiny – often only a few millimetres long – so require comparatively small prey to eat.
I find that pinhead crickets and fruit flies tend to work best in the early days. If keeping them communally I like to ensure a constant supply of food is available in the hope that the mantis will be less tempted to turn on one another.
The prey you give to individually-housed mantis will depend on their size. Personally I’m a fan of locusts as a livefood, so once my mantis reach a few centimetres long and have outgrown fruit flies I then start them on the smallest locusts available. These are slowly increased in size over time as my mantis grow.
Another popular option are house flies. These can be bought as maggots from reptile food stores. Place some maggots into a pot with some sawdust and within days they’ll turn into little black or brown pupae. These can then easily be popped into your mantis cages. Within a week or two they’ll hatch out, making an ideal prey source for your mantids.
In my experience most growing mantis will eat every day, so if you’re feeding individually housed mantis you’ll likely need to invest time every day or two into a feeding regime. Note any mantis that doesn’t eat, as they’re probably coming up to a moult.
There’s no point in trying to feed a mantis that won’t eat, and livefood left in the cage can stress your pet, or cause trouble during the skin change. Therefore keep a close eye on any such mantis, and withhold food until they’ve recovered from their moult – normally a few days afterward.
Rearing baby praying mantis – especially hatchlings – isn’t easy. It takes time and dedication.
You’re going to need a constant supply of live insects and dozens of different pots and cages for the rearing process. You’ll also be investing time every night into feeding and carrying out regular cleaning for hygiene’s sake. Despite all that effort you’re still probably going to lose some baby mantis while you figure out your own system.
Despite all that, it’s a skill well worth developing. Take my advice outlined above and modify it to suit yourself. Once you “get your eye in” and become experienced in rearing praying mantis from egg to adulthood you’ll find it a tremendously rewarding experience.
What’s more, once you’ve cracked your own little system then you can move onto more advanced and/or expensive species like the orchid mantis or dead leaf mantis. Good luck to you 🙂