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Buying and caring for a pet praying mantis

Everything you need to know about how to keep a praying mantis happy and healthy.

Table of Contents

Do Praying Mantis Make Good Pets?

Praying mantis are brilliant, inexpensive pets for invert-lovers, or for people that want to try out something a little different. There are numerous species to choose from, varying widely in appearance and personality. Praying mantis are slow-moving and enjoy being handled. They are perfectly safe to keep and only attack insects.

Are Praying Mantis Easy To Care For?

Absolutely! Praying mantis are easy, low maintenance pets. They can live in a small glass or plastic enclosure, which can be bought online or made at home. A daily spray will keep them humid and hydrated, along with live food every couple of days. Fruit flies are brilliant for mantis nymphs, and as they grow, you can try out different feeders and see what works best for you. Praying mantis do not need cleaning out, and adults can even be kept free-roaming on houseplants.

How Long Do Praying Mantis Live For?

Praying mantis can live anywhere from just a few months to up to a rumoured two years, depending on both their species and sex. Praying mantis are only a short-term commitment as pets, and their short lifespan allows keepers to experience owning many new and exciting mantis species in the hobby.

Choosing a praying mantis species:

There are numerous species of praying mantis all with their own care requirements. Species from hot, tropical countries are more likely to be considered “advanced” species, as they require high temperature and humidity levels. Beginner species are hardy and can thrive in cooler, less humid environments.

Later on, we’ll discuss the best and most popular species for beginners in detail. Here are some of our best sellers for beginner to intermediate keepers:

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Caring for your pet praying mantis

Before we get into this section, you should know that praying mantis care heavily varies by species.

For example, different praying mantis species may require different humidity and temperature levels. Species marked as “beginner” in our store generally have low humidity & temperature requirements along with simple care needs. 

It’s important that, as a new keeper, you research the mantis you want to purchase beforehand, and make the responsible choice based on what is right for you. To supplement our care guides, we have numerous detailed articles on sexing, feeding, molting, health issues, and more on our care guides page to ensure you have all the information you’ll need.

Mantis keeping is a simple learning curve, however it’s always recommended to start with a beginner friendly species first before owning advanced species.

Molting In Praying Mantis

This is an important section to talk about first as most aspects of praying mantis care revolve around ensuring successful molts.

Molting is a vital process in the lifecycle of all arthropods that allows them to grow. Arthropods, including insects and arachnids, have a hard, protective exoskeleton.

This sturdy exoskeleton keeps the animal safe but is so strong and inflexible that they cannot grow larger within it. So, in order to grow and mature, they must break out of it. This process of removing & creating a new exoskeleton is called molting.

Praying mantis molt around 6-10 times before reaching adulthood, depending on species and sex. As young nymphs, you should expect around a couple of weeks interval between molts. Older mantis may take a month or more.

Removing the exoskeleton is a taxing process that relies on internal secretions and external humidity levels to soften the external skin. For this reason, your mantis will be soft and vulnerable during and shortly after a moult. 

The new, fresh exoskeleton will harden over hours or days as it returns to its strong, defensive state. This process is called hardening. 

You should never handle your mantis during this process – wait at least 48 hours until they have fully hardened. It’s safe to handle your mantis when they start accepting food again.

A Madagascan marbled mantis.

Madagascan marbled mantis exoskeleton after molting.

Unfortunately, complications can occur during moults that result in deformities. Praying mantis can involuntarily fall while shedding their exoskeleton and harden into a deformed position. Mismolts are often fatal, but mild deformities and missing limbs can be regenerated in the next moult.

The Instar System

The instar system is a system used for ageing both insects and arthropods as they molt. After leaving the ootheca, (the mantis egg case) praying mantis nymphs are first classed as L1, the first instar. After molting, they become L2, second instar. Next, L3, third instar, and so on until adulthood.

Most praying mantis nymphs are sold as L2.

The number of molts a mantis will have depends on the species and sex. On average, praying mantis molt around 6-10 times before becoming adults.

instars-praying-mantis-pet

Mantises mature after their final moult, marked by the development of wings. After breaking free of their exoskeleton, praying mantis hang upside down and pump blood through crumpled wing buds to inflate them.

The term “sub-adult” refers to mantis just one instar away from adulthood. Sub-adult mantis have large, swollen wing buds that look like little backpacks. 

Wing buds become plump, and even change colour as the final molt approaches, until finally freed from the exoskeleton where they sprout into wings.

Feeding Your Mantis

Praying mantids are largely insectivorous predators. In the wild, the diet of a mantis consists primarily of flying pollinators and other bugs, although they seem to enjoy eating almost anything. Some species have a preference for flying insects which can be easily catered to.

For young l2 nymphs of almost every species, we recommend fruit flies.

 Praying mantis species are all different sizes and prefer different foods, so our general advice is to offer food around a third of your mantids total body size as it grows. Some species may prefer smaller or larger prey, so it’s best to do your research on whichever species you own or are looking to get.

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How Do I Feed My Mantis?

The simplest way to feed your nymph is to place fruit flies into their enclosure. There are a couple of things to look out for, however.

Certain feeder insects may nibble or hurt your mantis when they are vulnerable mid-molt, such as crickets. It’s important to never leave feeder insects in your tank for a long time – if your mantis has not eaten its food after several hours, try again another day. 

This is not generally an issue with fruit flies, however their flighty behaviour can be a disturbance to praying mantis in pre-molt.

While you should feed your mantis every several days or so, praying mantis can live up to 2 weeks without eating. You can easily tell when a mantis is full by the size of its abdomen – a flat abdomen shows feeding is due, a plump abdomen shows it is well fed, as seen below.

Housing & Enclosures

It’s surprisingly simple to create a mantis enclosure, but beginners often make some easily avoidable mistakes.

There are plenty of suitable options for enclosures around. Some of our favourites include pop-up mesh enclosures and ExoTerra glass vivariums. When purchasing an enclosure, it must have some sort of grippable mesh top (preferably plastic or fabric) and suitable airflow from holes or mesh as these features both prevent mismolts and encourage the removal of stale air, which reduces the chance of mould and bacterial infections.

Nymphs can be housed in glass, mesh, plastic, or acrylic enclosures given you’re following the guidance mentioned above. Here are our top recommendations:

Decorate your praying mantis enclosure with sticks, bark, live plants, soil or coco coir substrate. Avoid sharp twigs, sharp rocks, crystals, spikey plants, and other objects your mantis may hurt itself on.

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Heating & humidity

All praying mantis need certain temperature and humidity levels that reflect their natural environment. Beginner species are less demanding, where advanced species prefer it to be very warm and humid. 

Hygrometers are used to measure the relative humidity of your pet’s enclosure. Combined hygrometer-thermometers, such as the one linked below, allow you to monitor both temperature and humidity levels to ensure your pets home is perfectly regulated.

Not sure if you need a heat mat? While most mantis prefer a warm and toasty home at around 25c, it’s not always necessary. A warmer habitat for your pet will boost their metabolism, making them grow faster and be more active.

Beginner / easy-care species will typically be content at around 20c. If you live in a colder home and need to keep the temperature up, use a heat mat. 

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Praying mantis substrates

The most popular substrate for praying mantis is Coco-Coir. A good substrate will gently keep the air moisture high when it is sufficiently moistened. The more ventilation your enclosure has, the more spraying it will need to stay humid, as the moisture will eventually evaporate.

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Keeping the enclosure clean

Praying mantis don’t need routine enclosure cleanings like a hamster might. However, a minimal amount of spot-cleaning is required.

After a mantis eats, they often discard inedible parts such as legs and wings, or entire livefood items if they are full. Mould and bacteria may begin to grow on any animal matter, and this can be deadly to your pet if left uncontrolled. 

Regularly picking up after any bits like this will prevent any unwanted issues. Alternatively, you can employ the help of affectionately termed ‘clean-up-crew’. Clean up crew typically consist of isopods and springtails that will eat up any leftover animal waste before it starts to rot.

Sexing Your Mantis - Male Or Female?

Sexing praying mantis can be a little complicated for new keepers. Different praying mantis species present their sexual dimorphism (anatomy exclusive to either males or females) in different ways, but the most universal way to sex a mantis is by looking at their size.

Female praying mantis are almost always larger than males. As adults, size is a simple way to sex many species, however it can be difficult to tell in small growing nymphs.

Female giant Asian mantis.

Male giant Asian mantis.

Another popular method of sexing mantis is to count their abdominal segments. Males typically have more segments than females, while females have less. Once again, we cover this in great detail in our guide to sexing linked at the top of this section, along with a breakdown of sex-based anatomical differences. 

The Best Beginner Mantis Species

If you’re new to mantis keeping, we recommend you start with a beginner species.

The majority of new keepers start out with either the ghost mantis or giant Asian mantis. We recommend the giant Asian mantis, African mantis, budwing mantis, and Madagascan marbled mantis most of all to new keepers.

If you’d prefer a more unique species, we recommend the ghost mantis or spiny flower. If you’re looking for a large species, a better choice may be the giant Asian. If you’re looking for aggression, the giant African mantis is perfect.

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Giant Asian Mantis

Giant Asian mantis are a brilliant beginners choice due to their large size and huge appetite. H. Membranacea mantis are notorious gluttons. Hierodula Membranacea grow to around 4 inches long and are low maintenance, hardy pets. This is our top beginners recommendation.

Ghost Mantis

Ghost mantis are a strikingly unique species popular for their ease of care and distinctive appearance. While ghost mantis do not have difficult environmental needs, they are a timid species that often become scared of their own food. Ghost mantis are not flighty, however, quite the opposite. They stay very still on your hand, and even play dead. Ghost mantis are so timid, they can even be kept communally as they are unlikely to eat one another.

Spiny Flower Mantis

The spiny flower mantis, Pseudocreobotra wahlbergii, is a stunning species of flower mantis native to eastern Africa. Due to its natural arid habitat, the spiny flower mantis does not have exceptionally difficult environmental care requirements like high humidity for keepers to deal with. This makes P. wahlbergii a unique choice for inexperienced keepers. And, if you’re not already convinced by its simple care needs, just take a look at its stunning wings.

Giant African Mantis

Just a little smaller than the giant Asian mantis, the giant African mantis packs infinitely more punch. These are, without a doubt, the feistiest mantis we have owned. If you’re looking for a truly aggressive mantis, Sphodromantis sp. is absolutely the choice for you. They make little distinction between food and fingers (as we have regrettably found) and are extreme gluttons. The giant African mantis is hardy and great for beginners if you can handle them calmly and deal with having your fingers munched every once in a while.

4 Responses

    1. If you have purchased it, it is unlikely to be L1 as that is newly hatched and most sellers would wait to at least L2 before selling.

    1. Hi, L2 is very small and you will need to be very gentle with it. It is safe to handle but I would make sure you handle over an empty table in case the mantis decides to jump off your hand as it could very easily become lost.

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