A Guide To Praying Mantis

Mantodea

 Praying mantids are an order of insects that contains 2,400 species – that we know about – and are found in both tropical and temperate countries. They are most closely related to cockroaches and termites, rather than the phasmids (stick insects) which they often closely resemble. A triangular head with compound eyes is distinctive, and they all have excellent eyesight; they can detect movement up to 18 metres away, and have excellent binocular vision.

 

They vary in size from 1 to 16cm, and they all have one other thing in common – they are all voracious predators. It’s often been remarked that if they were large enough they’d be maneaters! Mostly they are ambush predators, although some of the smaller, ground living species chase down their prey.

Dead leaf mantis D lobata 5 (2)
Dead Leaf Mantis

 

But why ‘praying’? It’s the position of the front two legs that gives them this nickname. Technically known as ‘raptorial forelegs’, they are held folded together in front of the insect like the hands of a medieval monk on his way to church. Unlike the monk, those folded arms can be unfolded at a very rapid rate in order to catch whatever creature has had the misfortune to wander past the hungry mantis.

 

Not just insects, either. The diet of a mantis can include everything from the very tiny – springtails – to the very large – hummingbirds! Everything that moves in between those two extremes can become food for a hungry mantis, from every shape and size of insect to snakes and lizards. Gerald Durrell wrote about a battle he witnessed as a child between a mantis and a gecko above, and finally on, his bed.

Madagascan Marbled Mantis – Polyspilota Aeruginosa
Madagascan Marbled Mantis

 

They are, of course, also preyed upon by other creatures. They avoid this by the slow, swaying walk that imitates leaves in breeze, and by adopting a startling range of colours and body shapes that imitate twigs, leaves, or flowers. Add to that highly coloured and patterned wings and legs that can be flashed at a predator to startle them, and you have a highly efficient predator that also makes an excellent pet.

Giant-Asian-Mantis-e1462287219446-1
Giant Asian Mantis

 

There are some general rules for keeping mantids, although each individual species does have its own requirements. In general, they need:

 

  • an enclosure higher than it is long, at least twice the height of the mantids length;
  • plenty of twigs and branches to climb on;
  • live prey of a suitable size, although all mantis seem to like flies best;
  • spray with water to keep humidity up, and allow the mantis to drink;
  • they must be kept singly. Although there are species that will live communally, the vast majority are solitary, and will regard tank companions as a tasty addition to the diet!

Animal Information

Peacock Mantis, Pseudempusa pinnapavonis

  • From: Myanmar, Thailand
  • Size: Female to 10cm, male to 8.5cm
  • Preferred Temperature: 22 to 28ºC during the day, can drop to 18ºC or slightly lower at night
  • Diet: Flies, crickets, locusts
  • Lifespan: Females to 2 years, males to 18 months

Giant Dead Leaf Mantis, Deroplatys dessicata

  • From: Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, Borneo
  • Size: Females to 8cm, males to 7cm
  • Preferred Temperature: 25 to 30ºC, nights can drop to 18ºC
  • Diet: Flies, crickets, locusts
  • Lifespan: Females to 2 years, males to 18 months

Southeast Asian Dead Leaf Mantis, Deroplatys lobata

  • From: Thailand, Java, Borneo
  • Size: Females to 7cm, males to approx 4.5cm
  • Preferred Temperature: 25 to 30ºC, nights can drop to 18ºC
  • Diet: Flies, crickets, locusts
  • Lifespan: Females to 2 years, males to 1 year

Jewelled Flower Mantis, Creobroter gemmatus 

  • From: Vietnam
  • Size: Female to 4.5cm, males to 3.5cm
  • Preferred Temperature: 22 to 28ºC, nights can drop to 18ºC
  • Diet: Mostly flies for preference, but will take small crickets and locusts
  • Lifespan: Females to 18 months, males to 1 year

African Mantis, Sphodromantis gastrica

  • From: Africa
  • Size: Females to 8cm, males to 6cm
  • Preferred Temperature: 20 to 30ºC, nights can drop to 18ºC
  • Diet: Flies, crickets, locusts
  • Lifespan: Females to 18 months, males to 1 year

Egyptian Mantis, Miomantis paykullii

  • From: Egypt, East Africa down as far as Mozambique
  • Size: Females to 4.5cm, males to 3.5cm
  • Preferred Temperature: 25 to 30ºC, nights can drop to 18ºC
  • Diet: Flies, locusts, small crickets
  • Lifespan: Females to 1 year, males 6 to 8 months

Orchid Mantis, Hymenopus coronatus

  • From: Malaysia, Indonesia, Sumatra, India, China
  • Size: Females to 9cm, males to 4cm
  • Preferred Temperature: 25 to 30ºC, nights can drop to 20ºC
  • Diet: Mostly flies, although will accept other small insects
  • Lifespan: Females to 18 months, males to 1 year

Giant Asian Mantis, Hierodula membranacea

  • From: South and Southwest Asia
  • Size: Females to 10cm, males to 9cm
  • Preferred Temperature: 22 to 30ºC, nights can drop to 18ºC
  • Diet: Flies, crickets, locusts, roaches
  • Lifespan: Females to 2 years, males to 18 months