Praying Mantis - Care for the Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis  -  Care for the Praying Mantis
Insects as pets, like any other living thing, deserve the same level of commitment as any other pet. They are not a throw-a-way pet. You can’t decide you don’t want them and just release them outside. Every insect belongs within its own ecosystem; not all praying mantis or mantids are the same. There are over 2200 different species of mantises; mostly native to Asia, introducing just one into the wrong ecosystem could have devastating effects on the local ecology. There are approximately 20 native species of praying mantis native to the United States.

Praying mantis eats prey but they’re still a praying mantis, not a preying mantis. The name is derived from their prayer like posture. Except for a rare exception mantises must be housed separately.

The praying mantis comes from the sub tropics and tropics from around the world. The praying mantis has an incredible means to be able to hide amongst the vegetation in their ecosystem. One praying mantis looks like an orchid; the orchid praying mantis camouflaging itself within flowers of the rain forest. The orchid praying mantis is a beautiful organism that can easily capture its prey when it lands on the nearby flowers.

On the other hand, is the ghost praying mantis varying from black to a light tan and looking very much like a dead leaf, even the full-grown adult has veins going through their wings further enabling them to camouflage themselves into their environment. They’re from regions in African and Madagascar, are a rarity in that they are not cannibalistic, and even live in groups. This is one praying mantis where the male doesn’t have to try to run for his life when mating with a female.

Many mantis are prohibited in the United States because of the Alien Species Prevention and Enforcement Act (1992,) including the peacock praying mantis, orchid praying mantis, and the ghost praying mantis. The only legal mantis that you can purchase is mantises that are native to the United States. There are only two species that aren’t native to the US that can be legally purchased and be owed as pets and that would be European M religiosa and the Chinese Mantis, T. sinensis.

Praying mantis are usually one and a half to three inches in length. The longest praying mantis is about 10 inches from Sri Lanka.

You can tell the difference in gender of the praying mantis by counting the body segments. The male has six segments and the female eight segments. The female is normally larger than the male praying mantis.

Adult mantis can fly but usually walk and climb. They don’t grow wings until they have had their final molt. When they need to find a new food source they will fly if they must. I had a mantis live on one rose bush for a couple of months. One day I caught his gangling take off, (jumps first like a grasshopper) fluttered her wings and I watched her land in a different area in the garden. We were pretty use to each other by then. I use to watch her by the hour.

Praying mantises don’t have long life spans; usually 10 to 12 months. The female will not usually overwinter and usually dies shortly after winter begins. The male’s lifespan usually depends on the females desire to let him live or not. Often, if the female is not receptive of the male she will eat him. Often, precisely after mating the female will eat him. Or, even begin eating him during the act of copulation. Or, she may be in a pleasant mood and wait until the ootheca has been produced. Though her kindness has little to do with mood, it is to ensure the reproductive process is complete. The male in most species of praying mantises literally sacrifices himself for the survival of the species.

You can find the egg sacs (ootheca) on the side of the house, fences, just about anywhere. One of my favorite springtime activities is finding the oothecas early and keeping an eye on them until they hatch. The hatching process is amazing; the young mantis hatch all at once. They come out of the ootheca from the top. There is a seam or zipper looking stripe on the ootheca from which the mantis will emerge. It is quite a sight watching the mantises climb down the stringy looking substance that emerges from the ootheca. If food is of short supply upon hatching they will resort to eating their siblings.

After I buy a new house I will buy several oothecas and tie them up onto a stick in the garden to hatch. I will add a few more each early spring. The praying mantis are great at controlling garden pests (biological control of insects). They usually hatch after the weather has stayed about 77F for a while.

How to care for the praying mantis.

Put sticks in the habitat, preferably rough ones to aid the praying mantis while climbing. Add some branches and leaves. An insect container or aquarium with a secure mesh top, or fly screen material will work just fine as housing.

Keep a mister bottle nearby so that you can spray clean, fresh, filtered water on the inside of the aquarium wall, or gently over the branches and leaves. This is for two purposes, one is drinking water, and two since mantis is primarily from a humid climate they need some humidity.

Branches or trees must not contain any poisons, toxicity, or be a toxic or poisonous tree or bush. The mantis will like a tall branch for molting.

Molting is where the praying mantis will shed their exoskeletons. The young mantises will molt quite frequently and adults about every three to four weeks.

Include a substrate on the bottom of the enclosure such as sterile soil or peat. The substrate is primarily kept in the cage for retaining moisture as the praying mantis will rarely walk on the ground. Keep the cage clean to help keep your praying mantis healthy.

The praying mantis is a carnivorous insect. They sneak quietly and closer to their prey, then lightening fast, their forelegs lash out to capture their prey. Baby mantis needs small prey like fruit flies, pinhead crickets, aphids, or flightless fruit flies. As the mantis grows the prey can become bigger, even to the point of small reptiles, small birds, small mammals, they have even been seen munching on hummingbirds. Though, for a praying mantis in captivity you will want to feed the mantis crickets, roaches, grasshoppers, and flies.

Make sure the crickets are from a well-known source. Many crickets kept in unsanitary conditions or, and in addition to, not fed healthy and fresh food. This would be the case of any exotic pet that eats crickets. Some of the conditions of cricket breeders are awful. You are better off raising all your own prey. If you must buy the prey do not feed them to your pet for a few days, gut load your prey with healthy fresh food.

Do not over feed your praying mantis; having readily available prey in a cage is different from catching his or her own prey in the wild. Their tummy’s can burst. You don’t need to worry about dusting the prey if the mantis is getting a varied diet with nutritious, well-fed prey, they don’t require supplements.

Though each species of praying mantis can have different requirements they do need warmth. Make sure you find out what requirements your species of praying mantis needs before you bring one home. They also need some humidity, as I mentioned before spray a mist of clean, fresh, filtered water in the habitat.

If your home gets a bit chilly in the winter you may need a under the tank heating pad placed under only one quarter of the tank to provide the warmth he needs. Don’t place the habitat in direct sunlight or in a cold drafty place.

A tidbit about heating pads: I have noticed several heating pads lately that the temperature control is bad; it is the same temperature on warm, low, medium, or high – just plain HOT. Be cautious. I also had a control flash and catch fire, and turned everything black. I opened the control; somehow the two ends of the wires touched each other causing the problem. Thank goodness no pets were near.

Bonding I doubt if we can call it bonding, however, they will get quite use to you. Handle your praying mantis very carefully. They can bite but don’t very often. Allow the mantis to climb onto your hand. If you must move her or him use padded tweezers being very gentle.

Personally, I would prefer to enjoy the praying mantises in my garden and watch the babies hatch from their ootheca, than keep them in a cage. However, as with any exotic pets, we all make personal choices, and there is much gray area between black and white. Above all else, enjoy your praying mantis.

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Diana Geiger Exotic Pets Editoron

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Praying Mantises: Hungry Insect Heroes (Insect World)

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