There are numerous (over 2000 and counting) species of mantids. Several of these are available for insect hobbyists, such as the African Praying Mantis species which are suitable for beginners. Actually this consists of more than one species: Sphodromantis belachowski, centralis, gastrica, vidiris and lineola. Check out these pictures of praying mantises. And check your local laws before deciding on a praying mantis as a pet as they may be illegal where you are.
Mantids range from less than 1 inch up to 6 or more inches in length, depending on the species and sex. However, the most commonly kept pet species of praying mantis are in the range of 2-3 inches.
Expected Life Span of a Praying Mantis
The expected life span of a praying mantis depends on the species, but the maximum is about a year for its entire life cycle. However, most will only live as adults for about six months (less for some species of praying mantis).
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. However, all mantids are carnivores, feeding mainly on other insects and spiders; some of the larger mantids may even eat small amphibians and reptiles.
Housing a Praying Mantis
Mantids should be housed individually. However, a 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.
Substrate and Furnishings
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.
This is one of the most important aspects of 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 (listed above) should be kept at 70-86 F. If additional heat is necessary, use a small undertank heating mat (as sold for reptiles and hermit crabs). For species care sheets, try DeShawn's Mantid Kingdom.
Humidity and Water
The required humidity also varies by praying mantis species.
For example, the African mantis requires 60 percent humidity. Regular light misting of the tank will help provide humidity. Use a small, shallow water dish containing pebbles or a piece of sea sponge to prevent drowning which will 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.
Feeding a Praying Mantis
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.
- Mantid Terminology: The term mantid and mantis are often used interchangeably. Technically, the term mantid is the correct way to refer to all mantids, or members of the (sub)order "Mantodea." The term Mantis is technically limited to members of the genus "Mantis" within this large family. The term praying mantis may have originally referred to a specific species (Mantis religiosa, the European mantis), but now the terms praying mantid (and praying mantis) are used widely to refer to any of the large family of mantids. The "praying" descriptor arose from the way the that mantids hold their grasping front legs, as if in prayer.
- Mantids go through a simple, incomplete metamorphosis, so rather than having a larval stage (such as a caterpillar), they start out as very small wingless replicas of the adult (nymphs) that grow and mature in several successive molts.
- Mantids are marketed in gardening circles as pest control aids.
- DeShawn's Mantid Kingdom: A great site with several species-specific care sheets.