How To Feed A Praying Mantis
The most popular ways to feed a praying mantis include offering live prey insects to their mouth with tongs, by placing the food directly into their enclosure or by confining both the feeder and mantis into a small area.
But first, let’s do a basic overview of the feeding process with some images to help.
Here’s our mature male giant Asian mantis (Hierodula membranacea) that we’ll use as an example.
Typically you would feed your mantis within their enclosure or within a confined area where the prey insect cannot escape. Place your prey item within visible distance. Praying mantis can be a little oblivious and may only notice prey when placed further away. Finally, wait for your mantis to strike. Mantis prefer to strike prey around 2.5cm from themselves.
Try not to disturb your mantis after it has caught its food else it may abandon it. Mantis can take up to hours to finish eating, especially if the prey is large.
1. Contained Enclosure Feeding
Placing food directly into an enclosure with the mantis is easy & low hassle, but there are a couple of things you should consider.
Insects left inside of the enclosure for long periods of time can disturb your mantis should it molt. Praying mantis typically go through a period of fasting prior to moulting. If your mantis has not taken the food after a few hours of it being in the enclosure, it likely does not want it and the prey item should be removed.
Hand feeding is a brilliant way to feed ill or timid mantis that are afraid of their food.
Offer the prey insect with tongs to their mandibles (mouth parts). The movement of the insect should trigger the mantis to strike.
Alternatively, snip into the feeder to expose the insides and then present it to the mouth, the mantis will grab the feeder from you. You can hand feed a praying mantis honey, sugar water, and almost anything you can think of.
How Much Do I Feed My Mantis?
While it’s possible to follow guidelines on how much food to offer your mantis, an easier way is to simply judge by the size of the abdomen. The abdomen of a mantis adjusts while it is eating, and you can even see the food passing through the digestive system.
When a mantis is hungry, the abdomen is flat & thin. As your mantis eats, the abdomen expands both in length and width to accommodate the food, as seen below.
Can You Overfeed A Mantis?
While it’s not possible to directly overfeed a mantis, it is possible for them to eat so much that they become prone to abdominal ruptures from external damage.
Adult female mantids are predominantly in danger of this this, as they eat massive amounts of food and become fatter as they get ready to lay eggs.
It’s important to stay away from sharp, pointy or hard objects like crystals, rocks and spikey sticks when decorating an enclosure for this reason.
How Often Should I Feed My Mantis?
It’s generally recommended to feed your mantis every 2-3 days depending on their size, age, sex and species. Feeding a praying mantis more than this will speed up its metabolism, while feeding less will slow it down. This is how breeders make sure both male and female mantids mature at the same time – by feeding less and slowing down the fast growing male, and feeding more to speed up the slow growing female.
What Do Praying Mantis Eat?
The diet of a praying mantis consists of almost entirely live insects. Mantids typically prefer flying prey like moths and flies, but are not fussy feeders and will eat almost any other insects. Popular feeders for pet mantis include fruit flies, locusts, crickets, and mealworms which can be purchased online or from local pet stores.
The diet of a mantis is highly dictated by their species, sex, and age, and so it’s important to research the food preference for your mantis species. With this said, let’s go into the pro’s and cons of every feeder, and what’s best to use.
1. Fruit Flies - Drosophila Melanogaster & Drosophila Hydei
Flightless fruit flies are a popular choice for feeding “baby” praying mantis, AKA nymphs, and are typically fed to young mantis around instars L1 to L4 depending on the species.
There are two main forms of fruit flies you’ll see in stores: small flies, Drosophila melanogaster, and large fruit flies, Drosophila hydei. Commercially bred Drosophila fruit flies are completely flightless, so there’s no need to worry about any darting off around your home.
Fruit flies are healthy, plentiful, and inexpensive feeders, a single culture can yield more than one generation of fruit flies which make them brilliantly cost effective. These little flies are the recommended feeder choice for the majority of young mantis nymphs, and small species like Miomantis paykulii will happily eat these as adults.
2. Locusts - Schistocerca Gregaria
Not to be confused with crickets, Schistocerca gregaria desert locusts are a popular high-protein low-fat feeder insect used for feeding exotic pets. These insects are a healthy staple feeder that can make up most of your praying mantises diet.
Just like mantis, locusts can be bought at all instars, from fresh hatchlings to mature adults, making them a versatile option great for both small and large praying mantis species. Adult locusts are perfect for feeding to large mantis, like the giant Asian mantis.
Locusts do not make chirping noises like crickets, and need specific conditions to reproduce.
3. Blue & Green Bottle Flies
Blue & green bottle flies large are ideal for almost all praying mantis, especially species that prefer flying prey such as flower mantis & orchid mantis. These flies are healthy, high protein, and can make up a large proportion of a mantises diet.
4. Mealworms - Tenebrio Molitor
Mealworms are small, fatty grubs that grow into darkling beetles. Perfect for a treat, mealworms, like waxworms, should not be a main food source due to their high-fat content and lack of protein. Mealworms are inexpensive and come with plenty in a single pack.
5. Dubia Cockroaches - Blaptica Dubia
Dubia roaches, Blaptica dubia, are another great, key food source that can make up a large proportion of your pet’s diet. Dubia roaches are frugivorous, non-flying cockroaches that can be purchased in a variety of sizes from small to large like locusts.
It is worth noting, however, that dubia roaches can be a little impractical to use. These cockroaches love to stay hidden and burrow to the bottom of any soil or substrate, so your mantis can easily miss the opportunity to catch them. Dubia roaches should be supervised during feeding time to ensure they are actually eaten.
On the upside, Blaptica dubia roaches are extremely hardy compared to locusts which seem to have a naturally high mortality rate when kept as feeders in captivity.
5. Wax Worms & Wax Moths
Waxworms are small caterpillars that live as pests in bee hives. These little moth larvae are perfect for small / medium size mantids and mantis that like to be hand-fed. Wax worms are fatty, juicy treats but should not be the main food item in a praying mantises diet. Waxworms eventually pupate and grow into active & fluttery waxmoths, ideal for species that prefer stimulating, fluttery prey.
Silent crickets or brown crickets can be found in most local and online exotic pet stores for feeding to reptiles. These are juvenile crickets that do not chirp as they are not yet mature. Crickets are a high protein, low fat feeder option for praying mantis, but should be supervised during feeding time to ensure they are eaten, as brown crickets are curious animals that may try to nibble on other animals when they are molting and vulnerable.
What Shouldn't I Feed My Mantis?
As a rule, mantis are insectivorous. Despite this, praying mantis will often munch on unsuitable prey given it is smaller than themselves, even if it is not healthy for them. Here’s a couple of things to look out for when finding the right food for your pet.
1. Wild Caught Critters
Mantis keepers avoid wild-caught feeders due to the possibility of parasites, diseases & infections. You don’t know the conditions that wild insects have been living in, so it’s best to play it safe to keep your pet healthy.
2. Dead / Decaying Insects
For obvious reasons, it’s just not good for them. Insects can be pre-killed or frozen prior to being fed as long as they are still fresh. Do not feed insects that have been dead and sitting around for a long time.
Why Is My Mantis Not Eating?
1. Your Mantis Is About To Molt
If you’re new to mantis keeping and are wondering if you’ve done something wrong – in most cases the refusal of food is just a sign of pre-moult.
Pre moult is the stage just before a moult. It’s perfectly normal for praying mantis to reject food for several days during this time. Be careful not to stress out & disturb your critter immediately after molting as they will be soft, vulnerable and will need time to harden off.
2. Your Mantis Isn't Hungry.
It really could be this simple. There’s a chance you’re feeding your mantis more food than they want. You can tell whether a mantis is full by the size of its abdomen. If the abdomen is flat, it’s hungry. If it’s big and plump, your mantis has eaten enough, as shown in the previous sections.
3. Your Mantis Is Male
If your mantis is an adult male, his interest in food declines almost immediately after his final moult. This is because of, presumably, his preoccupation with finding a mate. Adult male praying mantis eat very little compared to females and even compared to nymphs. This is entirely normal, so be assured that he will eat as much as he is comfortable with.
Mature female giant Asian mantis.
Mature male giant Asian mantis.
4. Your Mantis Is Afraid
We expect praying mantids to be a lot more food-motivated and aggressive than they often actually are. In reality, aggression in mantis is heavily dependant on species.
Many species of praying mantis are actually really timid, for example, Ghost mantis (Phyllocrania paradoxa). Ghost mantis in particular are renowned for being fussy eaters, as they are extremely cautious of large prey. If this is the case, use smaller prey insects as food, around the size of your mantises head.
5. Your Mantis Is About To Lay An Ootheca
The “ootheca” is the official term for a praying mantis egg-sac. After reaching adulthood, mature females lay many unfertilised ootheca over the course of their remaining lifespan. This is the primary reason that females become so fat – they are full of eggs.
6. Your Mantis Is Getting Old
Loss of grip, leg parts breaking off, and a general slowing down are all signs of old age. If your mantis has lived around a year, it may just be their time. If your mantis is extremely old and sick, you may be able to identify issue.
7. Your Mantis Is Ill
An insect close to death will refuse both food and water. You can tell whether they are hungry/thirsty or if they are unwell by how they react.
If you raise wounded prey/water to the mouth of your pet, a healthy, full mantis will taste it and back away. You should see its mandibles touching & tasting the food before rejecting it. A severely ill mantid will not react, and will not taste with its mandibles.
If this is the case, you can try to identify the problem and solve it. Some common health problems include bacterial infections, fungal infections, parasites and moulting issues.
8. The Feeder Insect Is Too Large
Despite their fearsome reputation, mantis are often spooked by large prey items. Even if you promptly offer a smaller one, they may still be put off.
We recommend waiting a while until your mantis has calmed down before trying again. In this situation, your mantis will flick away food items rather than grabbing them. This can be confusing to new keepers, but if your mantis has attacked the feeder insect without grabbing it multiple times, it’s not interested.
9. The Temperature Is Too Low
Temperature influences the metabolism of insects. This means that keeping them in a cooler environment will cause them to eat and grow less, and the opposite for hotter environments.
This is actually often taken advantage of when breeding mantises, as males will be kept in cooler environments to compensate for their short lifespan before pairing them with a female. Keeping your mantis warm will increase their appetite.