The Unexpected Pet

When asked “What do you prefer: dogs or cats?,” many of us have a different answer. On a much smaller scale, there are animals, specifically insects, that bring joy to those who prefer an easy-to-take-care-of and non-human friend.

 

Mantids have been gaining popularity in recent years, especially in the U.K. and Australia. Entomologists and regular folk alike find these small-and not-so-small creatures extraordinary. There are approximately 2,000 species of mantis around the world, and many are still left to discover. Each species has its own distinct characteristics, including its place of origin, shape, size, and behavior. 

Photo by @mirror_mantids on Instagram

There are currently only a few hundred species that are commonly taken in as household pets, and even fewer that are regularly available on the market. However, that does not mean that they are impossible, or even difficult, to acquire. Websites created by those who have devoted their lives to insects and mantis-breeding sell a wide variety from which to choose. These extraterrestrial-appearing creatures are also relatively cheap to buy and care for. Popular species range from 10-20 dollars a mantis depending on the vendor and its demand, and the most expensive cost to worry about is the live animal shipment (approximately 20-30 dollars). Their food and terrariums can also be bought and made at hardly any cost.  

 

Perfect beginner species include the ghost mantis (Phyllocrania paradoxa), Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis), giant Asian mantis (Hierodula membranacea), and African mantis (Sphodromantis lineola). Many make the mistake of purchasing a flower mantis for their first time, specifically the orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus). It is suggested by practically all who have had pet mantids before, including me, not to begin with a flower species. They are very particular about their humidity requirements and are more likely to die than their counterparts. Orchid mantises are often deemed the most beautiful, but they are also one of the most fragile. Consider experimenting with the gentle, friendly ghost mantis or the resilient, fighter Chinese mantis before exploring other species. There are plenty of care guides online that discuss the requirements of each specific species.

 

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Moving on to the pet’s requirements themselves, enclosures can be an easy afternoon D.I.Y. I bought a cookie jar from a local HomeGoods for each of my mantids and replaced the lid with mesh and filled the bottom with coconut fiber substrate, but sphagnum moss and paper towels work just as well. Since mantids are carnivores and will not bother to nibble away at leaves, it is up to you whether you want your enclosure to have fake or live plants; but it must have something for the mantis to climb and hang from. Preferably gather plants and twigs that resemble the mantis’ skin so that they feel safer and camouflaged in their environment. The general rule of thumb is for the container to be 2x the length and 3x the width of your mantis, never too big or too small, or they risk mis-molting or not finding their food. 

 

Additionally, do not house mantids together, they are unfortunately cannibalistic. Although aggressive against each other and other insects, they will not harm a human. If you frighten them, they may get into their warrior pose; but even if they attack you, their small claws will feel like a soft pinch. Most of the time, they will just view a human as a small tree and will climb you to explore. No species of mantis are venomous or poisonous. 

 

Depending on the species of mantis, humidity requirements will differ. There is no need to purchase a water cup; mantids drink from water droplets. A clean spray bottle filled with filtered water will do perfectly. Most species require their enclosure to be sprayed once every one to three days. Make sure not to drench or under-water their containers either; correct humidity levels are essential in ensuring a healthy and successfully-molted mantis. 

 

Feeding is what turns away bug-loathers from considering a mantis. All species of mantis feast on their favorite dish: flies. When they are nymphs (babies or young adults), most will start off too small to eat house flies; instead, they eat fruit flies. There are two species of fruit fly that are widely available at reptile stores and online: melanogaster and hydei. Most mantids will be big enough at birth to eat the larger, melanogaster fruit fly, and only a few species need the smaller, hydei fruit fly. You can purchase a culture of fruit flies for approximately 5-10 dollars, and if you continue to culture the fruit flies yourself, the original culture purchased can provide you with fruit flies for months.There are several useful videos and articles online on how to culture fruit flies.

 

The larger species and adult mantids will be better off with house flies, blue bottle flies, or green bottle flies. You can even treat them with mealworms every once in a while if the mantis is large enough. Larger mantids will eat less often, about once every 4-5 days. Smaller mantids will eat about once every 2-3 days. A few flies will do. Mantids may not eat before or after a molt. Keep in mind that this is a rough guide, and after a while, you will begin to realize how big or small your individual mantid’s appetite is and can adjust their feeding schedule accordingly. 

 

Mantids make an enjoyable and easy-to-keep pet if you are up for the adventure. The small, alien-like creatures are interesting to observe in the day, and you can rest easy at night knowing you have your own little fly catcher. Consider purchasing a mantis if you are looking for a fun insect friend.