Some Facts About the Praying Mantis
In comparison with other pets (e.g. dogs, cats, parakeets) mantises have a short life-span, hatching in spring and dying in late fall or early winter. During her lifetime, a female mantis will typically mate during her life, and then store the male’s sperm until she is ready to lay an ootheca or egg-case. The ootheca consists of thousands of eggs surrounded by a white foam which will then harden into a protective shell to keep the offspring safe from would-be predators and the harsh conditions of winter. Contrary to popular belief, the female does not always bite off the head of the male during the mating process. This only occurs in a few species of mantis. The female mantis is always larger than the male mantis. Orchid mantises (Hymenopus coronatus) are bewitchingly lovely creatures. Whereas most mantises are green, brown, or a combination of green and brown, the purple orchid mantis of the Malaysian/Indonesian region is of a lilac and white hue.
Where Can I Get a Mantis?
One can often procure a praying mantis in a nearby park, garden, or one’s own backyard. Some areas will be teeming with them, and there will be no difficulty in finding one. In areas with sparser mantis populations, obtaining a wild mantis will require more work. As they are built for camouflage (as well as dressed to kill!), they may be difficult to spot. It is best to concentrate one’s energies on a single shrub or tree and spend several minutes looking carefully at each leaf and twig.
If you don’t have the time or the inclination to spend a long time staring at various twigs, you can purchase mantises from nurseries, which sell the predaceous creatures to gardeners as an alternative, insecticide-free form of pest-control. Nurseries will typically sell you oothecas for you to hatch. If you buy an ootheca, you can do one of two things. 1) Put the ootheca in your garden, and when the ootheca hatches, harvest a mantis from the many which should be crawling about your flowers and shrubs. 2) Put the ootheca in a container with very small holes in it to prevent the tiny mantis nymphs from escaping the container (fine mesh netting or some pantyhose will do as a cover). Once the ootheca hatches, the ravenous nymphs will emerge and begin devouring each other. You can either release them into the garden and try to keep one (or a few) in the container, or you can let them devour each other until you are left with the number of mantises you wish to keep. Each mantis should have its own container, or else they will try to eat each other. If you want to keep two mantises, separate them into two containers. If three, three containers, and so forth.
When raising mantises from the very tiny nymph stage, it is best to hedge your bets and raise many at a time. As in countries with poor health care and bad sanitation, infant mortality among mantises tends to be very high. Once your mantis gets bigger, it is likely to live out its full life-span, barring starvation or unforeseen disaster.
What Should I Feed My Mantis?
Mantises eat live food-usually, small insects and spiders. I have heard of mantis-owners who have trained their pets to take pieces of meat from their fingers, but to me, it seems much easier (and more fun) to let the mantis catch and kill its own food.
This is commonsensical enough, but the size of your mantis will determine the size of the food you will feed it. Tiny nymphs are more of a pain to feed, as they can only eat very small insects, like very tiny cricket nymphs and fruit-flies. Cricket nymphs can be obtained from most pet stores. Make sure that they are smaller than the mantis, or the cricket will harrass and distress the mantis.
Fruit-flies can be obtained very easily if you have access to a biology lab using them for research. You can also order them by mail from biology and nature companies. If you want to catch your own fruit-flies, leave a jar out in the open with a small bit of rotting fruit in it, such as a banana or an apple. When there are a lot of fruit-flies clustered about in the jar, screw on the lid, and put the jar in the freezer for a minute or two. You want to leave the flies in there long enough so that they fall asleep, but not so long that they die of cold. Take the jar out of the freezer, unscrew the lid, and catching the unconscious fruit-flies in the fine hairs of a camel-hair brush, transfer the flies into the mantis container.
Feeding an adult mantis is much easier, as almost any insect will do. The easiest things to feed them are adult crickets, which can also be obtained from most pet stores. Do not dump all the crickets in the mantis cage at once! The mantis will typically devour a cricket, and then instinctually catch all the crickets it can even though it is not hungry. The floor of the cage will then be strewn with the carcasses of partially-eaten crickets, and you will end up frustratedly staring at a cage with an obese, overfed mantis and several perfectly good crickets gone to waste. Keep your crickets in a separate cage with some egg-carton to absorb their waste, some food (a bit of carrot, a slice of apple, some lettuce, etc.) and a little wet sponge for their water. Keep the cricket-cage as clean as you can, and do not overcrowd it. This way, your mantis’s food supply will last much longer, you will not have to make constant trips to the pet store, and the area around your mantis’s cage will not smell like dead crickets.
If you wish to give your mantis more variety in its food (which is not necessary, but may give you more pleasure), you can catch live insects yourself to feed to the mantis. Mantises eat most insects or spiders as long as they are smaller than the mantis-small damselflies, houseflies, little grasshoppers, moths, harvestman spiders, all will be perfectly acceptable. If an insect is poisonous or foul-tasting, the mantis will discern that for itself, and promptly cease eating the insect after a few nibbles.
Do not overfeed your adult mantis. You can feed little nymphs more frequently, but feed your adult mantis one adult cricket (or the equivalent of one adult cricket if you’re giving it other insects) roughly once every three days. Don’t give into those large, lidless, puppy-dog eyes. You must be firm. Keeping your mantis trim and fit will prolong its lifespan.
Unless you’re the easily squeamish sort, watching a mantis feast is great fun. Upon sighting its prey, the mantis will turn its head towards the target and go very still. Then it will begin swaying and bobbing. This motion gives the illusion of a twig or leaf being blown a little by the wind. Sometimes the mantis will slowly creep towards its target. Upon the slightest movement by the target, the mantis will strike, grasping the victim in its forelegs, which are covered in sharp barbs. Then the mantis will begin eating the struggling victim, often starting with the head to shorten the length of its victim’s struggle. However, I have often watched my mantis indiscriminately start from the victim’s abdomen, which meant that the cricket remained conscious for a good part of its horrible death.
Don’t forget to water your mantis. Mist your mantis-cage once a day with water to keep your pet hydrated. Mantises need to drink as well!
How Should I House My Mantis?
As with most pets, mantises thrive when given a lot of space. House your mantis in a terrarium. If you have a large glass fish-tank or terrarium, that will do nicely. If not, a portable plastic terrarium will do fine. Line the floor of your mantis cage with paper towels to absorb waste and food remnants. It will also make it easier to clean the cage. If you like, you can also line the floor with dirt to give the mantis’s environment a more natural feel. Dirt also absorbs waste, water, and disguises food remnants very effectively.
If you can, place a small, leafy plant in the mantis cage. If there is no room in the cage, give it a lot of twigs and branches to clamber about on.
You will only need to clean the cage if it gets very filthy. For example, if the insect carcasses are piling up and looking unsightly. Soap and water will do fine for cleansing the cage. Remove the mantis before house-cleaning.
How Should I Handle My Mantis?
The same way a dentist cleans a crocodile’s teeth. Very carefully. Don’t make any sudden movements around your mantis. If you extend your hand very slowly towards the mantis, it will generally, eventually, clamber onto your hand. If you are a little wary about allowing a carnivorous insect with spiky forelegs anywhere on your person, you can instead extend a stick or a large leaf for it to climb upon.
How Should I Dress My Mantis?
This is a very silly question, and will not be dignified with a response.