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.
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.
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.
Housing the Praying Mantis
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 degrees Fahrenheit. If additional heat is necessary, use a small undertank 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.
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