Unlike a dog or a cat, the praying mantis is not a typical pet. However, it makes a unique addition to the home that is interesting to watch and fascinating to study. That being said, you do need to care for your praying mantis to ensure it remains healthy and lives a good life.
The praying mantis is a carnivorous insect. It will eat roughly every 2-3 days, depending on its size and other factors, and it requires a terrarium at least three times the length of its body.
There are different species of praying mantis, and while some do require higher temperatures, most can live at room temperature but do require additional humidity within their living environment.
Let’s take a closer look at what ownership of a praying mantis entails.
Praying Mantis Facts
There are thousands of species of mantises in the wild. These agile insects are ambush predators that are lightning fast, masters of disguise, and have the exceptional vision of the very best predators.
Not only are they carnivores, but they solely live on live food. They do not eat any form of vegetation and instead live on a diet of small insects like beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, and fruit flies. Mantises are seemingly unaware of their true size, and their predatory nature doesn’t stop with them hunting insects. They will attempt to take down small birds like hummingbirds, as well as frogs, and even lizards.
Although they are exceptional hunters, the wild praying mantis has predators of its own. They are hunted by larger frogs and lizards, birds, some species of spiders, and bats. The mantis, however, can detect a bat’s echolocation and, as soon as it hears it, will leap to the ground and attempt to slash at the bat with its serrated leg.
The mantis is well-known for its predatory mating practices. In around 20% of cases, the male praying mantis will have its head bitten off by the female following a sexual encounter. Studies have shown that females that successfully cannibalized their partner produced more eggs.
The female consumes important amino acids that are passed on through the eggs, too, which means that a father’s sacrifice can lead to more offspring that are stronger and better equipped.
Does a Praying Mantis Make a Good Pet?
Whether a praying mantis makes a good pet depends on what you look for from a pet. If you want cuddles and affection, then the mantis is not a good choice. But, they do not sting and they are not poisonous. They don’t spread any diseases, either. Even the largest praying mantis species has a very small mouth, so if yours does try and bite you because it is scared or perhaps because it thinks it can take you down like a hummingbird, it would be unlikely to cause any damage.
There are other benefits to keeping a praying mantis as a pet, too. Most subspecies can live well at room temperature. They live in a relatively simple cage, do not need special lighting or heating, and only require a bowl of water as well as some vegetation for the tank. They are much easier to keep than other exotic pets, even if you won’t be able to take them out for a daily walk.
The greatest demand that mantises place on their owners is for fresh, live food. They feed as often as every day to every 4 days and they eat a variety of insects. We cover their feeding requirements in greater detail below.
Where Can I Get a Pet Praying Mantis?
Although the mantis might seem like an exotic pet, it is not classified as one. Owning them is perfectly legal, which means that you can get them from pet stores and specialist stores.
They are most commonly found in lizard and reptile pet stores and are located next to other insects like stick insects and spiders. You may also find breeders online, but the cost of mantises is low so this is also rare.
Because the insect is quite easy to care for, apart from the feeding, and because they only tend to live approximately 12 months, it is unusual to find them in rescues or shelters.
The mantis is native to parts of the USA, so you may come across them in the wild. They occasionally find their way into the home, too, and they can make good house guests as long as you have a steady supply of fresh insects to eat.
How Much Does It Cost to Own a Pet Praying Mantis?
The cost of keeping a mantis does vary a little, but it is much cheaper than keeping other types of pets. You will need a terrarium or plastic cage, usually costing between $20 and $50. You will need some soil, a half log, and a water bowl to place inside the cage, and you can add vegetation that you collect from outside. All in all, the cost of the mantis and all the required equipment should be less than $100.
On an ongoing basis, you will need to feed your mantis live insects. You can breed fruit flies as a regular source of food for your pet mantis. Expect to pay a few dollars a month if you feed live crickets and buy them from the store.
What Kind of Home Does My Pet Praying Mantis Need?
A praying mantis is pretty easy to keep and has minimal requirements. This is also true of their terrarium, or cage. You’re going to need a glass or plastic tank.
It must be twice as tall as your mantis is long to allow your pet to shed its skin. When it does so, it will fix its feet to the top of the cage, split its skin down the middle, and then exit the skin. Bigger is better, however, and your mantis will not complain about having too much room.
In the wild, a praying mantis relies on height and cover to stay safe from predators. Provide twigs and hanging material so that your mantis can grab on.
Provide a water bowl. Although your mantis will not drink from it, it will appreciate the humidity that it promotes.
Spray the plants in your cage with a water mister. The mantis will drink the droplets as they run down leaves and drop off the end. Using the mister, spray the plants two or three times a week to ensure that your pet is getting enough water.
Check the room temperature in your home. The mantis will need a temperature around 77 degrees Fahrenheit, although some breeds do like it a bit warmer. If your house gets colder than this, especially in winter, you will need a heater for the tank. If your rooms remain at or above this temperature, you won’t need any additional heating.
There’s no need for food bowls because the mantis only eats live insects. There’s no need for toys because they won’t play.
What Should I Feed My Pet Praying Mantis?
As mentioned above, your praying mantis does require regular water. You can provide this by regularly misting the plants in the tank: approximately three times a week should be ideal. Although you will provide a water bowl, your mantis is very unlikely to drink from it.
Mantids are obligate carnivores and they get all of their sustenance, vitamins, and minerals, from live insects. In the wild, some species may attempt to consume slightly larger prey, but this is not necessary in captivity.
Feed crickets, locusts, moths, caterpillars, and other insects. You can even feed certain types of flies, and you can breed these flies so that you don’t need to keep buying insects.
A mantis will only usually eat every few days. On average, you should feed every 1-4 days, according to the size, weight, age, and shedding stage of your pet.
There is no need to supplement, and because your mantis only eats live food, there are no dry foods or other food items that you need to buy for your insect.
How Do I Take Care of My Pet Praying Mantis?
One of the big benefits of owning a pet praying mantis is that it is considered an easy pet to care for. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to properly look after one. With that said, there are some things you need to know.
Feeding should be done every 1-4 days. Mature and larger mantises may need feeding every day or two, while those that are shedding and smaller mantises will only need feeding every 3-4 days.
Feed what the mantis can eat and remove any live food after about 1 hour. You should not leave live food in the tank with your mantis longer than this, or it can cause stress for your little insect. You do not need to gut load insects or supplement the mantis’ food. When it comes to water, spray the plants and twigs in the cage every 2 days, or three times a week, and this should provide ample moisture for them to drink.
You are encouraged to handle your praying mantis. They are fun to hold, and it allows you to get a closer look and greater understanding of your pet. They can’t really cause pain to humans, but you should remember that they can fly and are fleet of foot so they do have the potential to make a quick getaway. If they do escape your hand, remember that they find security in elevated positions and cling, so they tend to loom at the top of curtains.
Let your mantis come to you and, if one does bite, try not to flick it off because it can hurt them.
Praying mantises do shed, and this usually occurs every month to 6 weeks. The exact frequency at which they shed depends on the humidity, the amount they eat, and other factors. Ensure that the tank has a decent humidity level and that it is at least twice as tall as your mantis is long.
Cleaning the Tank
Remove live prey after an hour and half-eaten prey before it starts to smell. The tank won’t need cleaning too frequently because you have quite a clean pet. When you do clean the terrarium, only use hot water and ensure that it is dry before you replace the insect. Do not use detergents.
How Do I Know If My Pet Praying Mantis Is Sick?
A praying mantis will usually live between 12 and 18 months in captivity. As long as you provide a decent terrarium, ensure that it is humid enough to comfortably shed, and offer live food regularly, you shouldn’t have too many health concerns from your mantis.
If you keep more than one praying mantis in the same terrarium, there is always the danger of missing limbs. Mantises are cannibals. They will cannibalize one another during and after mating as well as at random moments or as a result of fighting. Missing limbs can regenerate completely when your mantis next sheds its skin, and even if it doesn’t, your mantis can lead a perfectly happy life with a missing limb or partial limb.
Deformations and Crooked Wings
The most common cause of deformed limbs or bodies and crooked wings is a failed molting. Molting is the name given to the shedding of the mantis’ skin. This can occur every few weeks until your mantis’ final molting and it requires optimal conditions.
Specifically, the terrarium must be twice as tall as the mantis is long to allow the insect to fully stretch out and ensure that the new skin reaches the desired length. The terrarium interior should also be more humid during molting than at other times because this helps the shed skin to more easily slide off.
Vets cannot do much for praying mantis and you should expect your little one to live up to 18 months, but potentially as little as 10 to 12 months. If it stops shedding, becomes less mobile, and refuses to eat, this is a reasonable sign that it could be reaching the end of its life. Some mantises also turn a brown color or develop brown spots towards the end of their life.
The praying mantis is a unique and intriguing little insect, and it has become an increasingly popular pet. It is easy to care for, requires minimal investment, and takes up very little room. Although they are highly skilled predators in the wild and can grow up to 10 inches in length, they do not hurt people at all.
Provide enough room, offer live insects as food every couple of days, and ensure that your praying mantis has optimal temperature and humidity, and you can enjoy a fascinating insect pet for 12 to 18 months.
Featured Image Credit: LubosHouska, Pixabay
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.