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Mantids are a group of 1,800 insectivores insects (Order: Mantodea). Most mantids are from tropical countries although a few do occur in cooler climates. Their closest relatives are stick insects, grasshoppers and cockroaches. Like their relatives mantids undergo simple or incomplete metamorphosis; they do not have a maggot or caterpillar but go through several stages all of which look like miniature, wingless adults. In North America we have several domestic species and they are as fun as any exotic.
Young mantids should be fed on fruit flies (Drosophila sp.), aphids or other small insects. They do well if supplied with as much food as they can eat although they can last quite a while without food.
As they grow they can be given larger prey, almost any pollinating insects (for example, blue bottle flies, moths,bees) will be eaten. Some species will happily tackle prey as large as themselves. However, you should make sure that any insects that are not eaten do not chew the legs or wings of your mantid. A bite from a roach or cricket may kill your pet, sometimes takes several days to die.
Many species are very aggressive towards each other and if kept in groups they will eat each other especially as one or two become slightly larger than their brothers and sisters.
As the mantis grows it will shed its skin several times, becoming larger at each stage. Initially a small container such as a Deli Cup Habitatwill make suitable cage. As the mantis grows it can progress into a larger habitat like our Best Insect HabitatThis habitat is suitable for most all species of mantids!Thehole can be plugged with its sponge plug which will allow air to enter and escape free feeding. Ventilation and drainage are most important! see how we make them here.Vents and drainage are thoughtfully placed for a healthy environment and your success as a Mantis keeper.
We also use net cages, Net cages are made with fine mesh and are nice and safe for insects. These are great for hatching nymphs or keeping mantids if maintaining humidity isnt an issue, in the summer we hang some in the shade and the insects love it!
Whatever type of cage is used a stick, mesh or plastic decoration like a flower should be provided for the insect to hang from when it sheds its skin and the distance from the top of the branch to the floor must be at least three times the length of the insect.
Many Praying mantids are from tropical origins and therefore need to be kept warm, as a general rule 20°C to 25°C 68°F to 78°F will be ideal. Some species needs may vary. Mantids do not usually need to drink, they get moisture from food. However they will drink droplets of water when you mist to provide humidity, the cage should be sprayed with water each day. Use Coco Fiberas substrate. it is mold and fungus resistant even when kept wet. I use about an inch on the bottom as substrate. It should be kept moist as it will humidify your habitat. Try to keep about 65% RH (relative humidity), use a digital hygrometer- thermometer with probeso you can see what yours is correct. There are also Bio Active substrates and you can add live Oak Leaves, Magnolia Leavesand other Bio-active friendly items
Sexing mantids is difficult when they are small but fairly easy when adult, eight segments can be counted on the underside of the abdomen of a male and six on that of the female (in some species the end segments are difficult to see and only seven or five may be counted).
After two or three weeks as adults the mantids can be mated. Both should be fed as much as they will eat for several days before the male is introduced to the female's cage. It is advisable to use a large cage for the mating and feeding them well beforehand is essential otherwise the female will eat the male. Mating may occur immediately or it may take the male a day or so to make his approach. Mating may last a day or more so it is a good idea to keep the cage supplied with food so the female can eat while mating. The male should be removed as soon as mating has finished.
The eggs are produced in an eggcase called an ootheca this may produce 30 to 300 young mantids depending on the species. The ootheca is a frothy mass created by the female, the froth hardens to form a tough case for the eggs. Hatching can take from 2 to 6 months. The young may hatch all at once or in batches over a period of several weeks.
The ootheca should be suspended at least 5cm (2 inches) above the floor of the cage. When the young hatch they hang by a thread from the ootheca until their skin hardens off. The female will eat a lot and become very fat before laying an ootheca on a branch or side of the container if she is already fat she may well lay her first ootheca the day after mating. Oothecae is a living thing and should never be dried out, frozen or in too much heat.
She will lay several oothecae, usually about six, but only needs to be mated once. The young nymphs can be housed together for a time but the cage must be very large with plenty of hiding places and an excess of live food must be provided to prevent cannibalism. The mantids should be housed separately after the second or third moult depending on the species.
Mantids will live for 12 to 18 months and the oothecae can also take several months to hatch.
Some species of mantis are parthenogenic (self reproducing) and can produce a viable ootheca without mating.
If you live in a location where mantids occur naturally you may find mantis oothecas in the wild. People sometimes wonder how the eggs within the egg mass survive over winter. In the case of the mantis, the eggs will be buffered from extremes of temperature by being in the protective egg case (or by the position of the oothecae). This wintering is known as Diapause. Within this time the metabolism sinks and the growth nearly stops. Lower the temperature until you reach 5°C- 15°C (optimal is often 10°C). diapause often starts at the middle of autumn until spring.
people occasionally bring mantis egg masses indoors to "protect" them over winter. Unfortunately the warmth can cause the nymphs to emerge early and be unable to find any food. We keep some ooths in the vegetable bin. Do not diapause tropical species
Praying mantids undergo incomplete metamorphosis. Sometimes, often if their cage is too dry, a mantis may have trouble shedding its old skin and will lose a limb in the process of molting. If this happens it is possible for a mantis to regrow the lost limb but only when they molt again. This means that, if your mantis is an adult (i.e. if it's got wings), then it won't be able to regenerate regrow the lost limb. Unfortunately mis-molting often ends up with dead or dying mantis. Very important that when a mantis is ready to molt that it is undisturbed and in a quiet place to molt successfully.
Sphrodomantis from West Africa is an easy species to keep, very suitable for beginners. They are about 3 inches or 8 cm long and either bright green to light brown in color. They will happily take food of their own size and they will also take pieces of uncooked meat if it is offered on a pair of tweezers. Their ootheca can contain up to 300 eggs.