(The order Mantodea contains many species of mantids)
There are over 2,000 (and counting!) species of mantid. They come in a large range of shapes, sizes and colors. Some look like twigs or resemble crumpled dead leaves (this helps with camouflage), and others have brightly colored and delicate features resembling blossoms. They also come from a variety of climates, mostly tropical. All mantids are carnivores, feeding mainly on other insects and spiders. The mantid life cycle generally lasts about a year, and it may spend only about 6 months as an adult.
Mantids can grow to 6 inches or more in length, depending on the species and gender. The most commonly kept pet species of praying mantis generally grows to be 2–3 inches.FEEDING
Mantids require live food—they will not want to eat unless their prey is moving. Feed your mantid a variety of insects every 1–3 days; this is the best way to make sure nutritional needs are met. Nymphs and smaller mantids can eat fruit flies and aphids. Adults can eat a variety of flying insects such as moths, fruit flies and house flies, along with an occasional cricket or mealworm for larger mantids. Make sure the prey has been gut loaded, or fed a vitamin-enriched food, before giving it to your mantid.
Provide a container that is about twice as wide and 3 times as high as the mantid is tall. The container should not be too large or the mantid will have trouble locating its food. Include a few long twigs in the habitat so that the mantid can hang from them when it molts. The mantid will need room to hunt, so don’t clutter the habitat too much. Most mantids should not be housed with other mantids because of cannibalism.
Line the bottom of the mantid’s container with an inch or two of soil, peat, vermiculate, or soil and peat mixed with sand. This will help maintain humidity levels.
If your mantid stops eating and either ignores its prey or tries to chase its prey away, it may be getting ready to molt. Remove all food from the enclosure so that nothing will interrupt the mantid’s molt. Once your mantid starts to shed, do not bother it, don’t pick up the container, and don’t try to assist it! You can offer food again about 24 hours after the molt is complete.
The mantid’s habitat should be kept between 70 and 86°F. All insects are cold-blooded, which means that their body temperatures are the same as that of the atmosphere around them. Affix a thermometer with suction cups to the inside of the habitat so that you can monitor the temperature. Use an under-tank heater if necessary to maintain the proper temperature.
Humidity should be kept around 60%. Mist the habitat every 2–3 days to help maintain humidity levels and to provide the mantid with drinking water. Also include a shallow dish of fresh water to help maintain humidity levels and provide another source of drinking water.
INTERESTING MANTID FACTS
Mantids are masters of camouflage! Various species have adapted to blend in with or mimic their environments—they appear to be living or withered leaves, sticks, flowers, blades of grass or stones. Some species in Africa and Australia are even able to turn black after a molt following a fire! This helps them hunt prey and also avoid predators.
When flying at night, some mantids are able to detect the echolocation sounds produced by a bat. When the frequency indicates an approaching bat, the mantid will begin to spiral quickly toward the safety of the ground.