The species currently available is Mantis religiosa, otherwise known as the European mantis. Originally native to Europe, the species was introduced to the US in the mid 1800s and is now a naturalized species in the US, common across the southern states and the west coast. They are the second-largest mantis species in the US and are common in gardens as pest control and even in houses as pets.
As pest control in the garden, they need temperatures of 50 and over and a plentiful source of food. To prevent overpopulation, they will cannibalize each other. In captivity, mantises must be kept individually for this purpose. European mantises quickly acclimate to people and can become quite tame, even being hand fed quite easily.
Feeding and Care
As first instars, European mantises are only large enough to eat very small prey. They can subsist on Flightless Fruit Flies which can be purchased at most big box pet stores. A single culture of flies will likely last your mantis through their first few molts and they will then be large enough to take larger prey. Houseflies and Blue Bottle Flies are also great sources of food as they grow older and can often be purchased at bait shops for very cheap. You can also order some terrestrial prey such as meal worms or dubia roaches and hand-feed your mantis with tongs if you like. Wax worms can be purchased from most big box pet stores and tong fed or allowed to pupate into moths for a convenient food source. As they grow to be sub-adults and adults, European mantises can easily handle full-sized crickets and roaches. They should be fed roughly every two days and will not overeat.
There is some disagreement in the Mantis keeper hobby about whether feeding outside insects is acceptable. Some keepers worry about parasites while others cite the likelihood being slim. Whether you choose to feed insects caught outside, be aware that any pesticides or parasites on the prey can and will affect your mantis, so do so with caution.
As a treat, mantises also enjoy honey. Be sure to use organic honey and stay away from any flavored honeys. They’ll even drink it off your fingers! Be very careful not to leave honey in their enclosures as they can get stuck to it. Less than a drop is more than enough. I usually dip a toothpick into it and let them slurp off that. You may need to introduce the honey directly to their mandibles for them to notice that it’s there.
Mantises should be misted with water three times per week. Take caution not to over water your mantis as they are susceptible to fungal infections. Any mold in their enclosure should be removed immediately. Also take care to ensure the water droplets are as small as possible as young mantids are too small to break the surface tension of water and can drown in even one drop.
Adult mantises can and will fly, so be sure to take caution when handling them and be prepared to catch them if they fly away from you. If threatened, they can pinch with their forelimbs, which is uncomfortable but not painful. They can technically bite, however are more likely to pinch you.
Mantises will live about 7-8 months if they are male and 11-12 months if they are female. In rare cases, well cared for mantises can live upwards of 18 months. Females may lay egg cases called ootheca, but if they were not bred to a male, the cases will not hatch.
Mantids of all types should be kept in an enclosure that is at least twice their body length wide and three times their body length tall. The closer to this size the better, as young mantids can easily get lost in too-big enclosures. I keep my first and second instar mantises in deli-cups or plastic packaging leftover from other purchases. One good solution is a mason jar with the inner lid replaced with some sort of fine fabric mesh. You can find all the materials for this type of enclosure at the dollar store.
Ideal enclosures for adult mantises can be purchased on sites like amazon for less than 20 bucks. Something like this is perfect for an adult mantis and they can happily live the rest of their life in there.
Substrate is optional for mantises as they rarely spend their time on the floor of their enclosure. If you go with a mesh cube as linked above, you’re better off keeping a potted plant inside rather than substrate, as your mantis will greatly enjoy the cover and moisture from a live plant. If you do elect to go with substrate, ecoearth (coconut fiber) is ideal as it will slowly release moisture. You can find this at most big box stores, and even get small packages in the hermit crab section so you don’t have to buy 5 gallons at a time. Make sure the substrate is mostly dry when putting it in your enclosure to prevent mold growth and keep your mantis comfortable.
Mantises need something to climb on, so lots of sticks and plants are ideal. If you choose not to use a real plant, you can collect sticks from outside or buy nice decorations from your local pet shop. Thinner and longer pieces are better than thicker and shorter ones. You can buy willow wreaths from the dollar store and they are great when unraveled for mantis climbing. Silk flowers also make nice decorations for your mantis enclosure and these can also be obtained from the dollar store for quite cheap.
Mantises must have room to hang upside-down so that they may molt their exoskeleton. This is how they grow. You can expect your mantis to molt 6-8 times, depending on their sex. Good enclosures will have a mesh lid or have some form of mesh secured to the top so that they can grip tight during their molting process. While molting, any large food items such as crickets and blue bottle flies should be removed so as not to disturb your mantis. If they fall during molting, they can die. You can usually determine a molt is upcoming as your mantis will become more saturated in color and stop eating shortly before molting. They are safe to feed again after 24 hours.
Want them as a gift? I can ship mantises anywhere in the contiguous United States. Contact me for shipping rates for live animals.
If you would like to buy mantis supplies direct from me, you can view my shop here.