Mantis Madness

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1 
So tiny I almost couldn’t focus

One of my favorite parts of this job is raising baby insects. It may not be like raising a baby, or even a cat or dog, (sometimes you have to feed them living things) but it is still very fun and rewarding. Plus, baby insects are really cute as you’ve seen from my previous posts. This week, the stork brought us about 100 Giant Asian Mantis nymphs. They are so cute.

Giant Asian Mantids (Hierodula membranacea) are a species of very large, impressive mantids from Southeast Asia. They are typical-looking and resemble some of our native mantis species, but are much larger. They come in a wide range of beautiful colors, such as bright green, yellow, orange, grey, pale peach, or brown.

They are quite voracious and will go after a wide variety of prey.  The adults are of one of the few species that will even eat a pinky mouse (shudder). Mantids are known as ambush predators. This is why they have camouflage coloration, which helps them hide from their predators and prey. They are not equipped for running after prey, so they have to be able to lunge and grab things very quickly. Their characteristic “praying” front legs are equipped with lines of teeth or spines to grab and hold on to squirming animals and they are very strong. Mantids also have excellent vision.  Predators in the insect world need to have accute vision to be able to see potential prey moving and flying around them.

Violet is the proud mother of these babies. She is a gorgeous specimen, bright peach colored with light violet eyes (hence the name). She is the first mantis we’ve been able to take out for Bugs on Wheels. While others may freak out and jump, fly away, or bite your hand thinking it’s a really fat cricket, Violet just climbs up and looks around curiously. It’s like she trusts us, or, just knows that we take care of her and provide her with food. We will be so sad to see her go some day, but I feel great knowing I’m raising her babies and hopefully one of them will be as special as she is.

Blog 090

Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1 
Violet, posing for the camera

Raising baby mantids is really fun and easy, and it can be a great science experiment for home or the classroom. Mantis egg cases are available for purchase from a few web sites, like Insect Lore and Carolina Biological Supply, or some garden centers and nurseries. You can release most of the babies into your garden and keep the rest to raise yourself.

Once the babies hatch, they can be fed flightless fruit flies which are available from Fluker Farms.  They should be kept in a container with a mesh lid and plenty of small sticks and twigs. They need to have several places to hang from so they can molt. They should be fed fruit flies at least 3 times a week and sprayed with a fine mist of water a couple of times a week.

Once they get bigger, you can move on to feeding them small crickets, then bigger crickets and so on. If you have several, be sure to separate them as they get bigger, so they won’t eat each other. When they have made it to adulthood, you can release them into the wild, so they can start the cycle over again. 

Watching insects complete their life-cycle is really an amazing experience and it can teach you so much – maybe even mom and dad will learn something. I will leave you with this video of Violet’s green sister catching her meal. Happy bug watching.
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Learn more:
Katydid!…did she?
Big Beetle Bonanza
Vinegaroon gives birth to…grasshoppers?

10 thoughts on “Mantis Madness

  1. Help! Our baby mantids do not seem to be eatting, thay are 4 days old and have a supply of wingless fruit flys in the terrariam with them.

    We have seen a few eat (5-6) but the rest are gust eather sitting on the twigs and leves we put in or climbing to the top and hangging on the mesh.

    If we dont see more predation soon I’m going to have to let them go befor we could get them to a stag that they would have a better chance to servive.

  2. Hi Allen!
    I’m sorry to hear about the problems you are having with your baby mantids. First of all, 4 days is still a bit young, sometimes it takes several days for them to be ready to eat, some are ready sooner than others. Where did you get the egg case? I had one that I purchased from Carolina Biological Supply and I lost about half of the babies very soon after it hatched, so maybe there is something wrong with that egg case. Mantids are very fragile when they are first born and many of them can die, that’s why there are so many in the egg case. Just because they are in captivity doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty of obstacles to face, including each other. As long as they are together, the weaker ones will be eaten by the stronger ones, and that’s normal. If you want to let them go, they will be fine. If you want to keep them, just keep feeding them about every other day. In a couple of weeks, you will probably need to switch to larger fruit flies, then eventually crickets. I would expect you to end up with about 20 or 30 larger nymphs. They should not be kept together after their first molt, because the older they get, the more they will cannibalize each other. Good luck, and if you have any more questions, feel free to e-mail me!

  3. I am desperate to own a larger or almost adult sized green leaf mantid (with the leaf extensions on its front legs)…I have a garden room and set up ready…where can I buy one???? Please help!

  4. Hi Diane! I’m glad you’re interested in owning a praying mantis and it sounds like you have some pretty nice accomodations set up! I can give you a couple of websites I know of and otherwise you might try googling it!

    http://www.usamantis.com – He breeds and sells several species and I get several from him!He is out of town until the end of June, so don’t be dicouraged if you don’t hear back from him!
    http://www.mantiskingdom.com
    http://www.bugsincyberspace.com

    The other two I have not used, but they seem to have an ok selection. Good luck!

  5. I suggest remove/rephrase the comment about it being okay to release baby mantids into your garden. While it may be okay in the US, in the UK it is illegal to release alien species like that and could cause problems with the native wildlife. Many people from different countries have access to this page.

    Lovely article tho, and these animals are truly fascinating to keep. :)

  6. Hello, Danni!

    I do understand your concern about the comment. It is also, illegal/irresponsible to release non-native species of any kind and we certainly do not condone such activities! I only made that suggestion under the assumption that the babies Allen had were a native species, which they probably were. So, if not, don’t release them!!

    Thanks for reading!

  7. i recently caught a mantis and so far, it’s eaten two crickets, a spider, and one and a half flies. which brings me to my first question…

    if a mantis doesn’t eat a whole insect, does that just mean it has a full stomach? or could it be that the insect was diseased or otherwise unfit to eat? which brings me to another question…

    the first fly that it ate, it didn’t eat the legs or wings. do you know why? also, should i remove the legs and wings and half-fly from the cage? can dangerous microbes grow on these?

    lastly, how important is it to provide soil on the bottom of the cage? the only thing in the cage right now are three leafless twigs the same color as the mantis (pale brown)

    thanks!

  8. All very good questions! Mantids are interesting because the rate at which they grow and how long they live are dependant on 3 major things, temperature, humidity, and feeding.

    – A mantis in captivity will pretty much eat anything you throw at it! If you continue to feed it one thing after another, it can actually eat too much and this can be very unhealthy. If it did not finish some of the food, that probably means that it’s very full. The best way to care for a mantis, keep it healthy, and ensure a long lifespan is to keep it lean. I would feed it anywhere from 1 to 3 prey items weekly. For example, I use crickets, so I feed my mantids 3 crickets a week. You can feed them all at once, or stretch them out like every other day or something like that.

    – Just like humans, bugs can be picky eaters! Parts like wings and legs are hard, not very meaty, and not easy for the mantis to digest so very often, they will skip that part. You can remove the uneaten parts for cleanliness, although their not too likely to hurt the mantis.

    – It’s not completely crucial to have soil in the bottom of the enclosure. I use a soil-like substrate in my enclosures for humidity and aesthetic reasons. I like to mimic their natural habitat as much as I can. I feel like they are happier and healthier that way, but that’s just me! Whether you use soil or not, you should mist the inside of the enclosure a couple of times a week to ensure there is enough humidity.

    I hope this helps! Thanks so much for reading!

  9. Hi Erin!
    Few weeks ago i saw a praying mantis for the first time…and i wanted to carry it, but thought it might bite me, so i let it go in my backyard (and now i really regret it). And then i saw another one in one of our trees. I was wondering if there is any technique or special way to handle them so i don’t get bitten? coz it would be awesome to hold it!
    btw the mantis i saw is about 5-8cm long and green all over, and i live in Melbourne Australia – would you have any idea what kind of mantis it is?
    Thanx

  10. Hi Richard! most praying mantises are not very quick to bite, and even if they do, it is not painful! They have quite a small mouth! The best way, to handle them, I find, is to put your hand in front of them and a little bit above them. Mantises like to climb, so their natural reaction is usually to climb up onto your hand. You may feel the strength and prickliness of their front legs as they climb up, but it certainly does not hurt! This works for most species, but some are just too skiddish and will run away, usually the smaller species. Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with Australian species. You can contact the Bugs Alive exhibit in the Melbourne museum, they will probably be able to help you! Here is the website: http://museumvictoria.com.au/bugs/exhibition/index.aspx. Good luck!

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