Should You Keep a Praying Mantis as a Pet?

Close-up of a praying mantis on a stick

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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 ranges from 1 to 6 inches long, although most are 2 to 3 inches.

LIFESPAN: Up to 1 year maximum in captivity


Can You Own a Pet Praying Mantis?

Legality 

Check your local laws before deciding on a praying mantis as a pet as they may be illegal where you are. They're usually not, though, and praying mantises are actually the official state insect of Connecticut! There has been a good deal of urban legends about these curious breeds, mostly that they're federally protected and killing one carries a fine. This is patently false, and for good reason: praying mantises in the wild help gardeners and farmers with pest control!

These serious-looking insects are a curious pet choice, and many of the same rules for unusual pets apply to them.

Praying Mantis 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. The rumors that they can hurt you by pinching are untrue.

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.

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.

Specific Substrate Needs

Use a substrate of 1- to 2- inches 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 climb and 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.

What Does a Praying Mantis Eat & Drink?

Provide a variety of feeder insects 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

Food poisoning is a common reason that mantids get sick, often because of unhygienic feeder insects. Be sure to buy their food source from a reputable seller, and if yours falls ill you should change to another seller immediately. If your juvenile mantis isn't eating, it might be getting ready to molt. They often don't eat for a few days beforehand.

Another issue can happen when your mantid molts—praying mantises molt up to ten times in their lifetime, as they are growing into their adult bodies. You'll know they're finished when they've fully developed their wings. Sometimes, they may lose a limb in the molting process; this can happen if their cage wasn't humid enough. It's possible that your mantid will regain that limb in the next molt unless it was their final molt. Additionally, do not handle your praying mantis during the molting stage. The praying mantis will be without an exoskeleton and is very fragile.

Mating can also put your mantid's health—or really its life—in danger. Female mantids often, but not always, eat the head of the male they've mated with.

Exercise

So long as your praying mantis has enough room to climb around its tank, that's all the exercise it needs.

Grooming 

Mantids groom themselves, and you can harm them by attempting to groom them.

Shedding

Since praying mantises molt their entire outer shell, you'll often find it at the bottom of their enclosure. Often they will eat it, as it's packed with nutrients.

Bathing/Grooming

There are is no need to bathe or groom your praying mantis; it does it all for itself!

Size Information

Praying mantises vary in size, from 1 to 6 inches long, depending on the species.

Pros & Cons of Keeping a Praying Mantis as a Pet

On the pro side, mantids are fun and easy to own as they require little maintenance, and they take up very little space. But for cons, praying mantises only live up to a year, max, and most live only four to eight weeks past their final molt into adulthood.

Purchasing Your Praying Mantis

Praying mantises can be found in the wild. Look closely since they are the masters of disguise. 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.

You can also purchase them from some pet stores or online breeders; both can give you exact instructions on the care and feeding of your new pet.

Reproduction/Breeding

The breeder you purchase from should be able to tell you about their breeding process, and give you instructions on how to care for your mantid.

Similar Insects to the Praying Mantis

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

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

FAQ
  • Are praying mantises easy to care for?

    Yes! You just need to find them the right-sized enclosure and provide them with the correct diet. (You'll need to feel comfortable feeding them live worms!)

  • Can you domesticate a praying mantis?

    Not really. They are smallish insects, and while you can hold them or take them out of their enclosures they will never be the same kind of pet as a cat or dog.

  • How do I know if my praying mantis is full grown?

    When it has wings! Your mantid will molt a number of times on its way to adulthood. Once it has wings, it's finished its final molt.

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