Feeding and Caring for the Praying Mantis: Aliens as Pets

Just a few clicks of the mouse brought the most wonderful package to our home last March. Upon opening the package – we discovered exactly what we had been anticipating – our praying mantis egg case had safely arrived.

What did this contraption look like? Well, I can only describe it as a cross between spray foam insulation and something from the movie Alien. It was about three inches in length and two inches high. Tan in color, and its shape was an asymmetrical oval with interesting valleys and crevices about its surface. Silently enclosed in the strange pod were the miraculous heartbeats of infantile mantises.

One day, as I was washing the dishes, I spied an almost undetectable movement from within the container holding the mantis egg case. As I walked over to the container, I laid my eyes upon the most glorious sight. Hundreds of little mantises were crawling about the container, newly emerging from the case to catch a glimpse of the outside world. Their bodies were minuscule in size, measuring less than a 1/4 of an inch a piece. The majority of the insects were safely hatched – others lost in the fight for freedom. My children marveled as we watched God’s incredible creation spring into life.

After watching the hatchlings for a few hours, we decided to let most of them go – keeping only ten to rear. We placed the container sideways on the ground outside and observed as they wandered off into the landscaping of our home. Praying mantises have proven to be a natural insecticide for gardens and crops – being a major consumer of aphids and other produce-harming pests. The Website in which we had ordered the insects sold them for this purpose.

The ten remaining mantises were then placed in a small aquarium with branches and leaves for camouflage and places to rest. Their home was sprayed daily with a misting of spring water on the walls of the aquarium which the mantises lapped up like kittens to milk.

If not given food quickly, the mantises would soon begin to eat each other – so we researched the Internet to find a suitable meal for our new six-legged friends. The resources pointed to “micro-crickets” and fruit flies as hearty mantis cuisine. The flies were easily found at the nearest pet store chain and sold for roughly $3.50 per jar. The self-feeding jar contained a good supply of fruit flies as well as a stock of fruit fly maggots which hatched constantly – keeping the fresh fruit flies coming.

We fed our mantises approximately 2-3 fruit flies per mantis each day. How interesting it was to behold these aggressive carnivores devouring their prey. Who would have ever thought that at less than an inch in length, these insects could give King Kong a run for his money? We had several viewing sessions each day of mantis meals, never tiring of the sight. Their keen ability to remain still as they waited for their victim to approach was uncanny. It would sit silently in its legendary prayer pose, blending into the foliage and pretending to be a twig or a leaf until breakfast made a wrong turn – ending up in hungry mantis mandibles.

As time went on, the mantises grew larger. We had the opportunity to watch them molt and shed their skins. The molt proved to be one of the most dangerous times in the life of the young mantis – it was lucky to have survived. One mantis was ripped in half as it shed its old skin and another maimed as its hind leg remained in the carcass. Those that made it through were suddenly much larger than before and in a few days their color was regained.

A larger mantis meant larger meals. We were able to witness the consuming of house flies, moths, butterflies and smaller ants. A reminder to all mantis owners not to offer arachnids as a meal – or the mantis itself will soon become the victim in the spider’s web.

The confident demeanor of the mantis is a noteworthy topic. The praying mantis is certainly not shy of the human and when placed on the finger it will make eye contact with eerie beady eyes that follow movement like an eagle. The mantis can turn its head around to look over its shoulder. It will also swipe at a finger that comes toward it – and the larger mantises are known to take a bite!

Praying mantises come in many varieties. Some larger than others, but no less interesting to observe. When purchasing from the Internet, you can expect to receive them in their egg state. It is even possible to purchase egg cases on ebay. You will find many worthy mantis research sites online as well.

Overall, owning a mantis as a pet has been one of the most exciting events of our lives. We gave many of our mantises away to friends, and the ones we kept eventually died in molts. We are looking forward to next spring when we will order another batch.

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