Praying mantis is an amazing creature that you can keep as a pet. In this guide, I’ll teach you how to provide care to your pet praying mantis.
To care for pet mantis, place it in a ventilated enclosure. Lay potting soil in the enclosure as bedding, about 1” in depth. Add some twigs or barks for the mantis to climb. Feed the mantises with live insects not bigger than their size 3-4 times a week. Mist the enclosure from time to time when it gets dry.
Continue reading to find out how to get your first mantis and how to keep your mantis healthy and happy.
How to Get A Mantis, and Things to Consider
You can hunt for mantis in your backyard or in bushes with insects such as butterflies and plant bugs since they are the food source of mantis.
Catching vs Buying
You will need some luck to find a spot with mantis. To make things harder, the colors and shape of a mantis mimic that of the environment. Hence, you need to pay great attention to find the mantis. On top of that, there is a chance that the wild mantis is infected by parasitoids such as horseworms.
Alternatively, you can buy mantis from a pet store, most likely online. There are various species for you to choose from. If this is your first time keeping mantis, consider the Chinese mantis, giant Asian/African mantis, and budwing mantis. While they look dull compared to other mantises, they are easier to handle (due to their size) and take care of.
If you haven’t read my article on the best mantises for beginners, I recommend doing so.
Native vs Exotic
When choosing a mantis, you should also consider whether they are native. Keeping exotic insects is illegal in some countries. Do consult your local authority for more information. In addition, exotic species originating from places with different climates than where you are will require extra care.
Generally, it is easier to take care of older nymphs than younger nymphs, and it is easier to keep mantises from nymphs than eggs. If you have not kept mantis before, you should start from older nymphs.
Remember to buy more than 1 nymph, because not all will survive to adulthood.
Some sellers do sell ootheca (egg case), which may contain up to 300 eggs depending on species. Don’t start with eggs if this is your first time keeping mantis. Eggs are not recommended for beginners, because its more difficult to take care of the baby mantises.
If you really want to start with mantis eggs, do note that a female mantis can lay non-viable eggs if she has not mated. Make sure you buy the eggs from reputable sellers.
Since the egg case contains hundred of eggs, you might need to euthanize some of the nymphs at a certain stage unless you have the time and space to take care of all the nymphs.
Do not buy an adult mantis. Firstly, there is no way for you to know the age of the mantis. It might be near the end of its life. Secondly, it is more expensive than nymphs.
Depending on species, mantises can live up to a year or more. Female mantises typically live much longer than their male counterparts. This should be a point for consideration if you are choosing an older nymph or adult mantis.
Note that the sellers will not be able to tell you the sex of the mantises if the nymphs are too young.
Make sure the height of the container is 3 times the length of your mantis to facilitate molting. The length and width of the container can be around 2-3 times the length of your mantis so that they have some space to move around. Do not put your mantis in a container too big for it to find its prey.
Young nymphs (first/second instar) can be housed temporarily in a small deli container and moved to a bigger container as they grow. If you keep the younger nymphs in a huge enclosure meant for adult mantis, they may have a hard time capturing their prey. From 2nd instar onward, try not to house more than 1 mantis in the same container because they may cannibalize each other.
Bedding in the enclosure is optional but good to have. It can be as simple as a piece of paper towel, or pebbles, sand, and potting soil. Having bedding helps to ease cleaning and retain humidity for a longer period of time.
Decorate the enclosure with twigs, barks, or plants. It gives you better experience observing your mantis. Twigs and plants also form a playground for your mantis to enjoy. Most importantly, many mantises prefer to hang themselves upside down when hunting or resting.
The enclosure for a pet mantis should have vents to allow ventilation. The size of the vents must be small enough so that the mantis or their prey cannot escape. Whenever possible, choose a housing with mesh cover, not only for the sake of ventilation but also to allow the mantises to molt by hanging themselves on the mesh. There is more vertical space for molting by hanging on the mesh cover than hanging on a twig in the enclosure.
If you are keeping Giant Asian/African mantis or budwing mantis as recommended for beginners, this enclosure (affiliate link) is great for adult mantis. The Chinese mantis need to be kept in a large enclosure (affiliate link) due to its size.
Clean the enclosure at least fortnightly. To do that, transfer your mantis to a temporary container. Dispose the bedding substrate and wash the enclosure with plain water. Lay a new layer of bedding and replace the decor if necessary.
Lighting, Temperature and Moisture for Mantis
In general, mantises do not require special lighting. It is good to add a LED light source though, because mantises rely on vision to hunt their prey. I use a timer to light the enclosure for 8 hours a day to mimic the natural photoperiod.
The humidity and temperature requirements vary by species. Refer to your seller or do some online research to understand more on the requirement of your mantis. If required, you can use a heat mat to keep your insect warm, especially in the winter if you are keeping a tropical species. Check out our resources page for recommended supplies.
Mantises appreciate a certain level of moisture as a source of water as well as to facilitate molting. Sometimes you can see the mantis drinking water droplet from the mist. Remember to mist your enclosure every few days to keep it moist. Avoid misting directly onto small nymphs to avoid drowning them. You can also keep a wet sponge in the enclosure to maintain the moisture.
Feeding the Mantis
Mantises are predators. Most of them prefer live insects and you can feed them with flies, roaches, mealworms or crickets. Listed below are some feeders that you can buy for your mantis (affiliate links)
While there are a lot of feeder insects for you to choose from, note that some mantises prefer to hunt on a higher level instead of ground level. Some feeder insects such as crickets spend more time on the ground and hence it takes some time until the cricket finally runs into the mantis waiting on a twig.
Another thing to note is the size of the feeder insect. You should feed your mantis with something half their size when they are still young. Otherwise, the mantis can be overwhelmed by their prey. When the mantis reaches adulthood, the prey can be as big as the mantis.
On top of that, certain species of mantises are very picky on their food. Feed them according to their food preference. Refer to this guide if you want to understand more about different feeder insects and how to culture them.
Feed your pet mantis every other day. As a general rule of thumb, if the stomach of the mantis is flat, you need to feed it.
Any leftover carcasses should be removed as soon as possible to prevent molds. If the mantis shows no interest in the feeder insect, remove the feeder insect and try again the next day. If the mantis is about to molt, it will stop eating. Check out this guide if you need help on mantis refusing to eat.
Although not required, you can hold the feeder insect using a tweezer or needle and offer it to the mantis. The feeder insect can be offered alive or dead (freshly killed). You can also offer a portion of the feeder insect (eg. leg only) if your mantis is too small. This method is especially useful for injured/weaker mantis, or for those which are not good at hunting. Note that not all species accept food offered in this manner.
Mantises usually obtain enough water from their prey. Misting from time to time will ensure they have enough water. If your mantis is big, sprinkle some water with your hand and you can watch them drinking the water droplet. You can also wet a chopstick and put it in front of your mantis to drink it if you want.
How to Care for Molting Mantis
Mantises undergo incomplete metamorphosis, where the nymphs molt several times before turning into adults. When the mantis is ready to molt, it will stop feeding. On top of that, it looks slightly “fatter” than usual.
When this happens, you need to stop giving your mantis food. If there are any live feeder insects in the enclosure, do remove them. The mantis need a quiet and secured place to molt. By removing all feeder insects, you also eliminate the risk of the feeder insects knocking off the molting mantis by accident.
Keep the enclosure humid by misting but not wet. This will increase the chance of successful molting. Try not to disturb your mantis as much as possible.
Eventually your mantis will hang itself upside down on the mesh cover (or the twig). During the molt, it slowly emerges from the tip of the old skin. During the molt, if the body of mantis touches any hard surface (eg the substrates or the bottom of your enclosure), the body of the mantis may malformed. That is why you need enough vertical space (at least 3 times the length of mantis nymph) in the enclosure for the mantis to molt.
A newly molted mantis is whitish/pale in color and has a soft skin. You can start playing with it or feeding it only after its color turns normal, which signifies the hardening of its skin.
Handling A Mantis
You need to handle mantis slowly and gently. This is because mantis is fragile and it might attack you if it felt threatened.
Do not attempt to grab them with your hand. Instead, slowly slide your hand under the mantis, and let it walk onto your hand. Do not nudge the mantis unless you need to get it off your hand.
When you want to play with your mantis, make sure all windows are closed in case it flies.
That’s all you need to know about keeping mantis. If you want to know how to breed mantis, you can refer to this guide. Remember to check out our recommended books if you want to learn more about keeping mantis.
Will mantis bite or attack me?
Potentially, the mantis may bite or attack you with its forearms if it felt threatened. To avoid this, be gentle when handling the mantis so that you do not startle the mantis. A strike by the forearm of a large mantis species may draw blood. But it is not very painful though.
Be mentally prepared that the mantis may bite or strike you with its forearm so that you do not flick your hand. This may either hurt the mantis or cause it to escape. If the mantis bites and refuses to let go, use a pencil or needle to pry open its forearm or mouthparts.
My mantis is vomiting dark liquid! What should I do?
Your mantis probably got food poisoning if you see it vomiting. Stop feeding your mantis for a few days. Offer your mantis 10% syrup or diluted honey for a few days to help it recover.
Can mantis regain its lost limbs?
A mantis can regain its lost limbs if it has not reached adulthood. An adult mantis, however, will not regain its lost limbs.
When the mantis molts, a new limb grows to replace the lost limb. This new limb will be smaller than the original limb, and sometimes is not functional. The difference in size is more apparent in older nymph than younger nymph. The new limb will regain its normal size after a few successive molts.
If the mantis loses its limb when it is close to a molt, most likely the limb will not regrow during this molt. Instead, it will regrow in the next molt. Note that it takes a longer time for the mantis to reach the next molt because it needs to spend extra resources to grow a new limb.
How to prevent mantis from losing its limbs?
To prevent your mantis from losing its limbs, make sure all the factors affecting molting are taken care of: ensure the enclosure is adequately moist, no feeder insect in the enclosure, and enough vertical space for the mantis to molt.
Avoid putting multiple mantises in the same enclosure, or a feeder insect too big for the mantis to handle. This will decrease the likelihood of injury to the mantis.
How long can mantis lives?
Depending on species, it can live from a few months up to a year. Male mantises generally live shorter than female mantises. Virgin female mantises also live longer than non-virgin.