If you like insects and especially praying mantises, keeping a mantis as a pet can be a lot of fun. It will give you time to study the mantis better, watch it grow and develop, make amazing macro pictures of it and observe its hunting behavior. But which mantis species is suitable for someone who never kept insects as pets?
What is the best mantis species for beginners?
Not every mantis species has the same needs. Some species are easy to keep because they can live in a wide variety of environments: its not easily too cold or too hot and they are not as sensitive to air humidity and food quality. Other species are very picky and won’t thrive if you are not on top of their precise requirements. If you are just starting out as a beginning insect keeper, it is hard to be on top of all the details. You have to check so many things, it can be overwhelming.
So for beginners I would advice praying mantis species that:
- Are easy too keep because they don’t require too much special care
- Are big and calm so they can be easily handled
- Are easy to find in the pet trade
So, which species do I recommend for beginners? Here is the top 5 mantis species for beginners:
You would expect we would know the earth and what lives on it by now. But that’s not the case, there are still new species to be discovered. Last year a new mantis species has been discovered in Rwanda, Africa. Not even a previously know species in a different area or country, but a new species alltogether.
Scientists found it in Rwanda’s mountainous Nyungwe National Park. This species got the name Dystacta tigrifrutex, a name inspired on a bush tiger. The researchers found out that the female of this mantis hunts like a tiger. They claim it does not sit and wait until a prey walks by, but actually walks around untill it stubles upon a prey insect. It will then approach carefully and attack. Only the female has been seen showing this behavior, the male is much smaller and lives in the foliage. The female hunts on the ground.
Adult female Bush Tiger Mantis – Image credit Tedrow R et al
The scientists found the new species by setting light traps. As described on my page here, a light trap is a white sheet on which strong light is pointed. At night all kinds of moths and other flying insects are attracted to the light and will land on the white sheet. One day a male of the new bush tiger mantis species landed on the sheet and was recognized as a new species. Later a female was found too. Luckily for the researchers she produced an ootheca which hatched dozens of nymphs. In that way they could observe all live stages of the new species of mantis and confirm that the male that was found was really the same species.
It makes me wonder how much is still out there… For the insect enthousiasts that want to breed or keep mantises, this species is not the best to be kept as a pet. It is very small and brown without any interesting extra features.
It’s time to showcase one of the mantis species. This time it’s the Indian Flower Mantis. The Latin name for this species is Creobroter gemmatus or Creobroter pictipennis. Both species are very similar, making it difficult to determine which species you have. For breeding it matters with species you have, as they are unable to interbreed.
Read our caresheet of the Indian Flower Mantis to learn more about this species.
More full size pictures of the Indian Flower Mantis? Click Continue Reading.
A mantis fly
a mantis fly! The Latin name of the family is Mantispidae.
It took me a couple of looks to figure out what this creature is. It looks like a mantis, but not quite right. Its head, its antennae, the upright single set of wings and the way the front arms fold don’t make sense for a mantis. The colors make it look like a wasp, but that is just mimicry. By looking like a wasp it discourages predators to attack it they have learned that wasps sting.
A mantisfly or mantidfly is related to lacewings. Its only very distantly related to a praying mantis. The shape of the front legs has developed separately in mantids and mantisflies, making it a nice case of convergent evolution. Both groups of species have developed the raptorial front legs as a way to catch prey. Apparently this “design” is the most functional for insects that catch prey using their vision and their front legs.
Check out the video to know what I’m talking about.
Ever heard of the Wandering Violin mantis? It’s a mantis species that has a bizarre body. It has a normal head and abdomen, but in between there is a huge stretch of body that only serves as camouflage. It breaks up the normal body shape of an insect, making it harder for predators to recognize this mantis as a tasty bite. The rest of the body is also very well camouflaged.
Check out more about the Wandering Violin Mantis on it’s own page.
Subadult male Wandering Violin Mantis
Wandering Violin subadult Male
Many people ask me: “Does a praying mantis bite?” or “Can a praying mantis bite me?”. Well, it can, but it likely won’t happen.
A praying mantis will bit only when:
- It’s big enough to bite you, a mantis that is shorter than 2 inches won’t be able to bite you.
- It thinks your finger is a prey
A praying mantis does not bite to defend itself against people. If it shows that it feels threatened by assuming a defense posture (called deimatic display behavior) you should leave it alone to calm down.
It once happened to me that my mantis bit me. I had been away for the weekend and came back home to my mantises. It had been a bit warm that weekend and the mantises were thirsty. I took out one of the mantis older nymphs and let is walk on my finger. Then it felt the moisture on my skin, it bent down to drink. Mantises do this all the time when they are thirsty and they will not bite. But this time for some reason it saw my finger as a prey item and quickly used its front arms to catch my finger. The spikes on the arms hurt a bit, but immediately it also started to bring its head to my finger to take a bite! Ai, that hurts! I waved my hand up and down until the mantis lost grip and landed somewhere on the floor.
I think only the large mantis species that tackle big prey could possibly bite, for example the Giant Asian Mantis, African Mantis or European Mantis. The species that are smaller or eat mostly flies are not willing to attack a large prey like a human finger.
Do you want to read more about keeping a mantis as a pet? Read Caring for a Mantis. Do you want to know all the different species of mantis? Use the menu on your right!
African Mantis adult female – brown variant
How about a stick insect species in which the female has horns? Meet the Annam Stick Insect. Adult males are just boring with a smooth skin and thin body. But the females, no! They look like they are made of wood and have two funny horns at the top of their head.
You can read all about this species and how to keep it as a pet on the Annam Stick Insect page.
Adult female Annam Stick Insect
I used to keep Popa spurca mantises as pets, but I never made pictures to show here. Now Derrick Bell send me a message asking which species of mantis he has at home. And it turns out to be Popa spurca, definately. And he is so kind to allow me to publish his pictures here.
Popa spurca adult male
Popa spurca adult male
Popa spurca adult female
Popa spurca nymph
Popa spurca nymph – sorry for the out-of-focus but at least you can see its bizarre body shape
I got another question in my e-mail box to identify an insect. This time from Martina Stoecker located in Western Cape, South Africa. This is it:
Case moth larva from South Africa – Picture by Martina Stoecker
After some research it turns out to be a Case Moth larva. And these bugs turn out to be pretty interesting! They live inside a case made of sand, plant material and debris that they gather themselves. They use silk and the materials to make a bag where they hide in. The bag or case protects them and helps them to hide from predators. Because case moth larvae have to make use of the materials they find to make their casing, they can look very differently. The one on the picture has gathered quite a few small sticks to make a casing with horizontal lines. Very fashionable! Especially with the sandy collar area.
Other common names for case moths are bagworms. They belong to the family Psychidae. There are around 1400 species of bagworms and they occur all over the world. Only the larvae wear the distinctive bag, after pupation inside the bag a small moth emerges. The colors, size and host plant differs greatly between the species.
The picture is made with: Pentax K200D, macro lens Cosina 100mm, F13, 1/25sec., ISO500 by Martina Stoecker.