Keeping and Caring for a Praying Mantis as a Pet

How to Care for a Praying Mantis as a Pet

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A praying mantis is a fun and relatively simple pet to care for. There are actually numerous (over 2,000 and counting) species of mantids. The term praying mantis may have originally referred to a specific species (Mantis religiosa, the European mantis), but now the term «praying mantid» (and «praying mantis») is used widely to refer to any of the large family of mantids. The «praying» descriptor arose from the way that mantids hold their grasping front legs, as if in prayer. Several types of mantids are available for insect hobbyists, such as the African praying mantis species which are suitable for beginners.

Breed Overview

Common Name: Praying Mantis

Scientific Names: Sphodromantis belachowski, centralis, gastrica, vidiris, and lineola.

Adult Size: The praying mantis’s body is less than 1 inch to 6 inches, although most are 2 to 3 inches.

Life Expectancy: Up to 1 year maximum in captivity

Difficulty of Care: Intermediate. The praying mantis can be docile or aggressive, depending on the type of insect. They need to be housed individually in a small tank.

Behavior and Temperament

Mantids come in a huge range of sizes, shapes, and colors. Some look like twigs (and use this as camouflage), some resemble crumpled dead leaves, and others have brightly colored and delicate features that make them look like blossoms. They also come from a variety of mostly tropical climates. All mantids are carnivores, feeding mainly on other insects and spiders; some of the larger mantids may even eat small amphibians and reptiles.

Since there are so many species of mantids, it’s important to know what type you have. Every species is different in shape, size, behavior, life-history traits, and specific needs. Depending on the type of mantis, your insect could be docile and quiet or be more aggressive and make more noise. Some prefer to stalk their prey and others do so less aggressively. When threatened, most will strike a defensive pose.

Housing

Mantids should be housed individually. Each praying mantis needs only a small tank. Generally, a tank should be at least twice as wide and three times as tall as the mantid, but not much larger than that. If the tank is too large, the mantid will have a hard time finding its prey. A 1-square foot tank is a good size for most praying mantises. The 12-inch height is important to provide space for molting. A mesh top is preferred and mesh openings on the side are helpful, if possible.

Use a substrate of an inch or two of soil, peat, peat or soil mixed with sand, or vermiculite in the bottom of the tank for a pet praying mantis. This will help retain moisture. Provide several twigs that reach almost to the top of the tank as the mantid will need space to hang from a twig for molting. Live potted plants or artificial plants can be used too, but make sure not to overcrowd the tank. Your praying mantis will need space to move about, hunt, and molt.

Temperature is one of the most important aspects of praying mantis husbandry and one that can vary with different species. Some species are tolerant of variations, but some have very specific needs, so check your species’ requirements. The commonly kept African praying mantis should be kept at 70 to 86 F. If additional heat is necessary, use a small under tank heating mat (as sold for reptiles and hermit crabs). For species care sheets, a helpful reference is DeShawn’s Mantid Kingdom.

The required humidity also varies by praying mantis species. For example, the African mantis requires 60 percent humidity. A regular light misting of the tank will help provide humidity. The drinking water can also help provide a humidity source.

Food and Water

Provide a variety of feeder insects should for your praying mantis. The best way to make sure nutritional needs are met is to feed a number of different kinds of prey: fruit flies and aphids for nymphs, instars and smaller mantids, and a variety of flying insects such as moths, fruit flies, and house flies along with an occasional cricket or mealworm for larger ones. Gut load the prey by feeding it a vitamin-enriched food which will be passed on to the mantis.

For drinking water, use a small, shallow water dish containing pebbles or a piece of sea sponge to prevent drowning. This water will also provide a humidity boost. Most mantids will get their water intake by drinking water droplets off vegetation provided by misting, though some may use the water dish. Be careful that the humidity does not get too high.

Common Health Problems

Feed your praying mantis only healthy insects. If the insects are sick (or come from outdoors where pesticides have been used), it’s likely your praying mantis will get sick. Do not handle your praying mantis during the molting stage. The praying mantis will be without an exoskeleton and is very fragile. If you have had nymphs hatch, be sure to separate them because they can eat each other.

Is It Legal to Own a Pet Praying Mantis?

Check your local laws before deciding on a praying mantis as a pet as they may be illegal where you are. They are an unusual pet, and many of the same rules for unusual pets apply to them.

Purchasing Your Praying Mantis

Praying mantises can be found in the wild. Look closely since they are the masters of disguise. You can also purchase them from some pet stores. If you plan on adopting a praying mantis from your yard, be sure you are fully prepared to take care of it, establish its environment, and feed it the correct diet. If not, it’s best to release it after taking a close look at it.

Similar Pets and Further Research

If you’re interested in a pet praying mantis, check out:

Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet!

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www.thesprucepets.com

Can A Praying Mantis Bite?

With an undeniably alien body, a great head, unsettlingly large eyes and all other manners of angular, kind of creepy looking features, it is only natural to wonder about the full range of defense (and attack) capabilities of this bug. Seeing one in the wild, especially if you are not used to them, can be a bit of a shock. Like with most insects, too, one of the first things wondered is: do they bite?

While physically, yes, praying mantis are capable of biting, they rarely, if ever do. Their mouths do work, but they are more reserved for catching and eating prey than simple biting.

However, if severely threatened and physical displays and pinching do not work, they may snip. So, yes, they can bite, but they simply won’t and don’t bite humans in most circumstances.

These are fascinating, complex creatures. From their physical build to their history, there’s more to the story than them simply not being human flesh nippers by nature.

Table of Contents

Do they bite?

Can they bite? Yes. Do they bite? The chance of a praying mantis biting you is so slim, it is pretty much just about zero.

I have personally handled hundreds of praying mantis and have only ever been bit once. The wild, adult praying mantis did not appreciate being picked up and did bite drawing a single drop of blood.

The bite itself was less painful than an ants bite and no bandaid was required. Having handled quite a few of these green bugs, I do know that this particular incident was the exception and not the rule.

What do they bite or eat?

From a pure sustenance standpoint, praying mantises have a working mouth to eat their favorite prey: live insects. They don’t go after any bugs that are already dead, however.

Since people’s fingers are not on the menu of a praying mantis’s diet, they do not feel the need to chomp down. This is also thanks, in part, to those massive eyes they have: praying mantises have incredibly well-developed eyesight, meaning that not only do they not want to bite you, they are able to see, very clearly, that you are not a tasty insect and so are unlikely to deliver a bite by mistake.

What’s more, size is a big factor, too. While a larger mantis won’t bite you pretty much on principle, a praying mantis that is less than 2 inches long, physically can’t bite you. They are simply too small and their mouths can’t open wide enough to chomp down.

However, since there is always an exception to prove a rule, once in a while a praying mantis will bite. Just like with any other wild animal, read and respect their body language: a praying mantis that is assuming a defensive posture (standing as tall as possible, spreading out its legs and wings wide, opening its mouth) is feeling threatened, so back down and back away.

Even if they are not going to bite, having one of them launch itself at you is pretty nerve-wracking and unwelcome enough! If you continue to attack or harass the poor insect, they may resort to pinching you with their legs or even biting you.

Mantises rarely bite to begin with, so if you do find yourself bitten, it is most likely due to you mishandling them or threatening them, since humans simply as they pose no threat to praying mantises, nor do they look like meals.

However, even the largest of praying mantises still possess a relatively small mouth, so the odds of them even breaking the skin are slim. Mostly, a bite will feel more like a pincer grabbing you, with the skin being pinched but not penetrated.

I know this contradicts my experience above, but let me reiterate that my experience was with a large adult.

They also have been known to up their eating game and devour the occasional spider, lizard or frog. Or, alternatively, the female may decapitate or similarly maim and devour her male partner after mating.

It is actually one of the most popular facts people know about the praying mantis – that there is female-led cannibalism. After the male is through performing their mating dance, the female praying mantis has been known to bite off the male’s head or legs during or right after mating.

It should be noted, though, that this characteristic is not unique to praying mantises! While their rates of post-mating cannibalism are objectively high, they are often blown up to be more common than they are.

Though we may think of every mating session ending in cannibalism, that feast really only occurs less than 30% of the time.

What are their hunting tendencies?

They look like exacting alien hunters – and to many insects, that’s just what they are. With their long necks, ability to turn their heads 180 degrees and what amounts to literally hundreds of eyes, they can spot insect meals easily.

Praying mantis are also patient hunters, capable of staying very still and lying in wait to stalk their prey. Those impressive forelegs, long and bent and pincered with spikes made for ensnaring, are able to lash out and grab a bug or other small prey with lightning-fast reflexes – so fast, in fact, are these movements that they are almost impossible to see with the naked eye.

Praying mantises are excellent at staking out general areas that are ripe with prey. If you see one in your garden or yard, you can expect to often find them there, waiting on leaves, on flowers or in shrubbery for an unsuspecting meal to crawl by.

They also make use of lights at night (similar to a moth in attraction, but with a plan for feeding instead of a blind obsession) – they fly very well after dark and continue to hunt nighttime bugs for meals.

Their diets are very bug-centric, with their main prey being flies, crickets, grasshoppers and common garden bugs. Plus, praying mantises come equipped with sharp mandibles in their mouths, perfect for tearing apart even the thickest of buggy exoskeletons and even ripping into the through flesh of frogs, lizards – and sometimes even small birds.

What is unique about the praying mantis as a whole species?

Though the ubiquitous term “praying mantis” is pretty much used exclusively, there are a few subspecies that do differ amongst mantises. There are three main types: Chinese, European and Carolina.

The Chinese praying mantises are the largest, measuring at 3 to 5 inches long. They can be either brown or green, but all have a yellow or pale green stripe that runs down the edges of their wings.

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Next up in size is the European, usually around 3 inches long. They are often the most commonly seen types, and are that distinctive bright green color, with a flashy little black and white bullseye mark on the insides of each of their forelegs.

Finally, the Carolina praying mantises are the smallest at just 2 to 2 ½ inches long. They can be green or a woodsy, mottled grayish brown color. The females of the Carolina variety are flightless, as their wings are much too short.

The Lifespan of a Praying Mantis

No matter the praying mantis, though, according to National Geographic, they share an average lifespan of one year. This makes them well-suited to a lifecycle in the wild, but hard to breed and raise. Such short lifespans make for a very small window of breeding, and one that keeps cycling up.

They also are the same when it comes to reproducing: female praying mantises lay hundreds of eggs at a time, enclosed up in a small case. From these eggs hatch tiny nymphs, which look for all intents and purposes just like very much shrunken and highly delicate versions of adult praying mantises. These babies will continue to grow over the course of the next year.

Though not really a familial selling point, praying mantises are actually related to cockroaches, though they are far less off-putting. The family traits can best be seen in their rigid and strong exoskeleton, along with the common, three-part insect build of a thorax, and abdomen and a head. They also all have two wings and two antennae.

What really sets them physically apart, aside from their complex eyes (two large, compound eyes that house quite legitimately hundreds of smaller eyes within them, plus another host of three, regular eyes), are their legs.

The front legs of the praying mantis are insect-catching and killing machines lined with barbed teeth that make escape all but impossible for prey that the mantis has captured.

These legs are scientifically known as raptorial legs, and the praying mantis can use them not only to trap prey but also as defense weapons against possible harm.

Praying mantises are also master adaptors and are skilled in the art of disguise. Their range of green to brown body colors ensures they will be able to blend in with many an environment, including grasses, leaves, sticks and more.

Praying mantis are found in a multitude of different environments and adapt themselves to the conditions of their homes, from lush jungle fauna to more barren landscapes.

What do you do if you are bitten?

If you are one of the unlucky very few and you have found yourself to be bitten by a praying mantis, there are a few things you can do. First, on the bright side, do know that praying mantises are non-venomous, so they will not have injected you with any kind of poison or similarly stinging substance.

In fact, their bites are so non-consequential, you really only need to wash your hands! However, you should follow stricter hand washing conventions, to ensure your skin is fully cleaned.

Even though they don’t secrete venom, you still don’t want wild bug saliva hanging about on you, especially when they have made a tiny puncture.

Wet your hands with soap and warm water, lathering up for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to include the back of your hands, between your fingers and also your wrists. Then rinse with warm water until all the soap is off of your hands. Lastly, be sure to sure your hands fully to ensure they are clean.

If the praying mantis bit down with excessive force, or it just happened to nick you at the right angle, you may need to take a pain reliever until the stinging wears away.

You are generally in no danger of any allergic reaction, swelling or inflammation, though. In fact, there may be more chance of you experiencing inflammation or skin breakage from contact with some of the barbs on their forelegs than from an actual bite.

However, if a praying mantis bites a pet, do keep an eye on them. Since they can’t tell you when something feels off, you may need to look for adverse signs on your own. Just like you would yourself, too, wash and sterilize the bite and make sure your pet keeps the area clean.

In order to prevent against praying mantis bites (or, really, any insect bites), you should always wear gloves when gardening. Similarly, if you plan on being in tall grasses or out in wooded areas, always wear long pants and socks to protect exposed skin.

Why are praying mantises well-liked?

Though it varies from state to state and region to region, praying mantises are often looked to as not only harmless insect, but welcome ones! Since they have an appetite for live bugs and a skill for seeing and hunting them, they are often used as a natural means by gardeners to control destructive pests.

With heads capable of turning that aforementioned Exorcist-like 180 degrees and eyes that can see quite clearly, they are a friend to gardeners by being hunting machines, eating up aphids, invasive beetles and other pest insects that would normally be feasting on plants and destroying gardens.

They even have a built-in population control mechanism, thanks to the females eating the males, so they rarely have a population count that is too high.

This is an awesome video that has a lot of great information.

Gardeners who wish to keep the helpful praying mantis around should be careful to not use (or at least limit) the spraying of pesticides and insecticides. These may kill pest bugs, but they will also harm praying mantises.

Don’t let their fearsome features and cannibalistic reputation scare you. Praying mantises are pretty well-renowned for being chill bug buddies. They may attack and eat insects, but they rarely if ever will bite a person. That is what makes them so welcome in many a garden: they eat up the pests but never bite the human hand that houses them.

April is an avid animal enthusiast with a love for the outdoors. She has a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and masters degree work in large animal reproduction. Currently, she lives in Southern California where she enjoys all things outdoors.

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With big eyes, pincer-like legs and a long body, praying mantises are already poised to stand out in the insect world. But along with their impressive physical features, do praying mantises also.

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Common Praying Mantis: careful hunter and master of disguise

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FIGURE 1. The praying mantis�s green to grayish-brown coloration offers excellent camouflage in plant foliage where it prefers to hunt. Their color can be somewhat altered by an individual to better match its specific surroundings.

FIGURE 2. The immature stages of the praying mantis are called nymphs. They are skilled hunters and typically well-camouflaged to their habitat.

FIGURE 3. The Carolina mantis (Stagmomantus carolina) female encases her eggs in a frothy secretion that hardens into a foam-like substance. An egg case may contain up to 300 eggs. Other species protect their eggs in a similar manner.

FIGURE 4. The elongated thorax of mantids functions like a neck, enabling the triangular head to rotate almost 360 degrees. (Photo of a preserved specimen in insect collection maintained at the Galveston County Extension Office.)

Stagmomantus sp. (the Carolina mantis, Stagmomantus carolina, is common in Texas)

Immature stages are similar in appearance to the adult stage (i.e., simple metamorphosis)

Both larval and adult stages

Wide range of prey including flies, crickets, beetles, moths

Occur across the Galveston-Houston region; however, populations seldom high enough to control high numbers of pest infestations.

Yes (mounted specimen for viewing available in insect collection at County Extension Office)

Just as the gypsy moth has nothing to do with gypsies and the emperor scorpion has nothing to do with emperors, so the praying mantis (Stagmomantus sp.) has nothing to do with praying. Quite the opposite: mantids specialize in preying!

Wonderfully weird, the praying mantis is an almost perfect insect-hunting �machine.� Perhaps that is why mantids are one of the first species that comes to mind when the term �beneficial insect� is mentioned.

A praying mantis begins its life in an egg case of up to 300 eggs. The Carolina mantis (Stagmomantus carolina) commonly occurs in Texas. Carolina mantis females encase their eggs in a frothy secretion that hardens into a foam-like substance. Her egg cases are rectangular, about one inch long and 3/8 of an inch wide, with rounded corners. Color varies from tan to white on top with darker sides. Look for them on twigs, vines and even under eaves of buildings. Other species protect their eggs in a similar manner.

Since the life cycle of mantids involves simple metamorphosis, the egg hatches into a nymph, a wingless immature insect that resembles its parents. Nymphs immediately begin to hunt and eat small game. They will eat each other if other prey is not readily available. An immature individual may go through as many as twelve instars before it reaches adulthood.

Mature adults usually live from spring to fall at which time they mate. Within a few weeks after copulation, a female praying mantis usually die. The male literally loses his head during the mating process for the female simply bites it off and eats it. While this behavior is routinely observed in the laboratory, researchers think it is much rarer in the wild. Maybe these cannibalistic actions help explain why mantids are territorial loners.

Mother Nature has gifted the mature praying mantis with a number of adaptations that make it a fearsome hunter. Very unusual in the insect world, the mantid�s elongated thorax functions like a neck, enabling the triangular head to turn almost 360 degrees. This feature combined with its two huge compound eyes and three single eyes, give the praying mantis a real advantage in spotting its next dinner. Each foreleg is modified to fold back like a pocket knife, with serrated, spiny edges that end with sharp hooks: all the better to catch and hold a squirmy lunch desperate to get away.

Another advantage for the praying mantis is its coloring. Not only does the mantid�s green to grayish-brown offer excellent camouflage in the plant foliage where it prefers to hunt, this color can be somewhat altered by an individual to better match its specific surroundings. The praying mantis will sit and wait or very slowly stalk its prey, sometimes swaying back and forth to mimic plants moving in a breeze, only to become lightning fast when it snares its unfortunate target.

It immediately uses its strong mouthparts to start chewing the still-living prey. Sometimes, the mantid will bite its victim on the neck first, thus paralyzing the insect and avoiding its escape. It is the only predator that feeds at night on moths and is fast enough to catch flies and mosquitoes that venture within its grasp.

All of these characteristics combine to make mantids formidable and almost perfect predators. Why the �almost� qualification? One problem is that the entire family is indiscriminate in what they eat.

While they consume pests such as flies, crickets, moths and mosquitoes, they also devour other beneficial insects, including each other. Larger species (especially those in tropical areas) will chow down on lizards, small mammals and even hummingbirds.

Even though the praying mantis may not be the perfect garden angel its reputation implies, it is one of the tools nature uses to maintain that ecological balance required for responsible, successful gardening. It can be used as a biological control agent. Such use requires careful study, proper identification of pests and their corresponding predators, and increased monitoring of the results of control agent introduction. And, to some of us, the praying mantis is so odd as to have enormous entertainment value!

Beneficials in the Garden & Landscape is an Earth-Kind TM program coordinated through Extension Horticulture at Texas A&M University. Earth-Kind uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum gardening and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting our environment.


This web site is maintained by Master Gardener Laura Bellmore, under the direction of William M. Johnson, Ph.D., County Extension Agent-Horticulture & Master Gardener Program Coordinator.

All digital photographs are the property of the Galveston County Master Gardener Association, Inc. (GCMGA) 2002-2015 GCMGA — All Rights Reserved.

hortsciences.tamu.edu

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