Praying mantis are growing in popularity as pets, as more pet shops begin to stock them, and more pet owners begin to discover their benefits.
The Benefits of Keeping Praying Mantis as Pets
Firstly, praying mantis are absolutely fascinating to watch. While they may lie motionless for hours on end, this is all part of a ruse; quite simply this is how mantis hunt. In nature, they hide in flowers and bushes, waiting for an unsuspecting insect to wander past unawares. At this point the mantis lashes out, grabbing the prey item with their spiky front legs. Their dinner is then secure.
In the home, feeding your praying mantis can be a thoroughly absorbing, if somewhat nerve-wracking, experience.
For such an aggressive hunter, mantis can be strangely docile with their owners. A further benefit of praying mantis as pets therefore is that they can generally be handled quite safely. In general, a praying mantis will happily walk from hand to hand. Incase you’re wondering right now they’re also highly unlikely to try and take a chunk out of your finger.
The only proviso here is that the adults develop wings so they are capable of flying away if you annoy them. In other words, while you can safely handle youngsters, when it comes to holding the adults, try to ensure your windows are closed to avoid escapees.
Lastly, keeping praying mantis as pets gives you an opportunity to enter another world. Keeping a praying mantis can be rather like having your own zoo; you get to watch your pet growing up, hunting, changing its skin, and reaching maturity. If you’re lucky, you’ll even have an opportunity to breed these fascinating insects and watch the whole circle of life completed. For those who enjoy watching all the activity and life in a fish tank, praying mantis can be equally fascinating.
Luckily, with a few simple bits of equipment and a little practise, praying mantis are also quite easy to keep as pets. This can make them even more tempting captives…
How to Keep a Praying Mantis As A Pet
To successfully keep a pet praying mantis you’re going to need the following pieces of equipment:
- A cage
- A perch
- A houseplant spray
- A heater
- Some food
With just this short shopping list you’ll be well on your way to praying mantis success.
Let’s take a closer look at each one of these elements in turn, so you know exactly what supplies you’ll be needing for your new pet.
Cages for Praying Mantis
The first piece of equipment that you’re going to need to purchase is some form of “cage” or vivarium in which to keep your pet mantis. Adult mantis can be kept successfully in small fish tanks made of glass or plastic. Alternatively, plastic sweet jars can make suitable cages.
Younger mantis will be smaller, and any clear plastic or glass container can make a useful cage. Even clear plastic drinking tumblers – as sold for barbeques – can be used successfully if the mouth is covered by a piece of net curtain material held on with an elastic band.
Whatever you choose as a cage for your praying mantis, you must ensure that it conforms to a number of golden rules.
Firstly, the cage should prevent your pet from escaping, but it should also allow some air movement. Stagnant, moist air can kill praying mantis so it is essential that some kind of ventilation is present. As an example, in the case of the plastic sweet jar mentioned previously, it would be wise to punch some holes in the lid with a knitting needle or soldering iron so that moist air can escape.
The second important factor when choosing a praying mantis cage is that it should be at least twice as tall as your mantis is long. There is a very simple reason for this; when a praying mantis changes its skin, it anchors its back feet to the top of the cage, splits its old skin down the back and then slowly slides out of the skin. The cage must be twice as tall as your pet is long to allow it to properly slide out of the old skin. Without this, mantis can fail to moult properly, a health problem that can cause death.
Perches for Praying Mantis
Praying mantis rarely feel safe on the floor; in nature they clamber up plants to stay safe. The same is true in captivity; not only will your mantis feel safer off the ground, but these perches are also important for moulting and for hunting.
In large adult mantis, the easiest perch is to place some twigs in the cage that your mantis can sit on. In smaller cages a suitable substitute can involve hanging a piece of kitchen roll down the inside of the container. Whatever option you choose, the perch should allow your mantis to sit up high, but should also be accessible from the very bottom of the cage. In this way, if your mantis falls, you can be certain that it will be able to find its way back up again.
A Houseplant Spray
Praying mantis are unlikely to drink from a water bowl like a dog or a snake. Instead, they tend to drink water droplets from the surface of plants. The easiest way to mimic this is captivity is through the use of a houseplant spray gun.
Simply spray the inside of your mantis cage lightly a couple of times a week in order to allow your mantis to drink from the droplets. Over time the leftover droplets will evaporate out, ready to be replaced with the next spraying.
It is worth mentioning that when a praying mantis moults, it needs a higher humidity than normal. If you ever notice that your pet mantis has gone off its food, therefore, consider giving it an extra spray. That will help to increase the ambient humidity within the cage and make moulting easier.
Praying mantis come from warm climates, so tend to do best with artificial heating. This is generally only needed in the winter months; over summer the ambient temperature in your home should be perfectly sufficient for your pet.
Buying a heater for your pet needn’t be expensive; many reptile shops sell low-powered heat pads that cost pennies per day to run, and are perfectly safe to leave on long term, yet will keep your pet warm and toasty.
Food for Praying Mantis
Pet praying mantis are carnivores; they need live food to eat if they are to thrive in captivity. This is the one potential downside of keeping a pet mantis; you’ll need to feel comfortable buying tubs of insects to feed to your pet, and you’ll need to be confident enough to sacrifice live insects on a regular basis.
You cannot over-feed a mantis so in essence just feed it as much as it will eat. This typically means adding one or two crickets, hopper locusts or flies to the cage every day. At this point you will be able to watch your mantis hunt for its dinner.
Note that you shouldn’t leave live-food in the cage for the long term as this may stress out your mantis. Any uneaten food should be removed within an hour or so to prevent this occurring.
As mentioned previously, over time your mantis will grow and change its skin. This moulting process is almost always preceded by fasting. If your mantis ever stops eating, then, it is likely that it is coming up to changing its skin. At this time it is particularly important that no uneaten food is left in the cage, as it may cause damage to your delicate, freshly-moulted mantis.