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Mantises or mantids are an order of insect with over 2,000 separate species, of which the well known praying mantis is just one! The praying mantis gets its name due to its appearance, which often appears as if they are “praying,” thanks to their conformation and the structure of their front legs. They are also sometimes referred to as the “preying” mantis, due to their hunting and eating habits.
There are several different types of praying mantis, and some of them, such as the African praying mantis, make for interesting and relatively easy to keep pets. The appearance of the different types of mantids can vary significantly, ranging from an easily camouflaged twig-like appearance, through to bright, vibrant colours and patterns that are indisputably beautiful. They can range in size from just a couple of inches long up to around six inches, although the types kept as pets tend to be at the smaller end of the scale.
Mantids are relatively short-lived, with the average lifespan of the praying mantis being around six months.
Mantids are not social animals, and it is recommended that they be kept individually. However, they do not take up a great amount of space, and a lone mantis will only need a tank that is around one square foot in size. Mantids need plenty of fresh air, and so a securely fastened mesh top is required rather than a plastic or glass lid.
The substrate of the tank should be a couple of inches deep, and consist of soil peat or vermiculite mixed with sand to retain water. A range of foliage and ornamentation is also required, such as twigs, sticks and even potentially live plants. Mantids moult or shed their skin while hanging from branches, and so getting the twigs or decorations to reach up to an appropriate height is important. While foliage and cover is important, you should also ensure that the tank is not too overcrowded with decoration, as your mantis will need room to move about, moult, and find their food!
Mantids are delicate creatures that are very vulnerable to variations in temperature. Some species and types of praying mantis are much more vulnerable to temperature variations than others, and the African praying mantis is one of the more hardy varieties. Nevertheless, getting the temperature of the tank right and keeping it constant is one of the most important aspects of caring for a praying mantis. The African praying mantis can thrive within a temperature range of 21 to 30 degrees Celsius, which is warmer than the average room temperature in the UK during the greater part of the year. A heat mat underneath the substrate with a thermostat to control the temperature, plus a thermometer to monitor the temperature, will usually take care of the heating requirements of mantids.
Mantids do not need supplemental lighting within the tank, and will often avoid bright light, so try to ensure that your mantid’s tank is not placed in direct sunlight or under any bright lights.
Most mantid species, the African praying mantis included, need a relatively high level of humidity within their enclosure. For the African praying mantis, the humidity level should be around 60%. Leaving a small, shallow dish of water in the tank is recommended, both as drinking water and to increase humidity, and you should place some small stones or a piece of saturated sponge within this bowl to prevent your mantid from drowning if they should happen to climb into the bowl. Additionally, misting the tank regularly with a spray bottle of clean water is also advised, although you should take care not to saturate the substrate or overdo it.
The praying mantis is carnivorous, and will eat a wide variety of live insects and bugs, such as flies, crickets, mealworms and other tasty treats!
You can usually buy live food of these types from specialist exotics pet shops, or order them over the internet for delivery through the post. As with all forms of live food for exotic pets, the nutritional content of the food that your mantid consumes will depend on what they themselves have eaten, and so it is important to ensure that the food you give to your mantis is rich in nutrients.
In order to maximise the nutritional content of live food, you will need to buy a special nutrient rich solution to feed to the prey, in the days leading up to their being fed to your mantis. This process is known as “gut loading” and ensures that the prey that you feed to your mantis is rich in all of the essential nutrients they need to stay in good health.
While a water dish should be provided in the tank, do not be alarmed if you never actually see your mantis drinking from it. While some mantids will drink water from a bowl, many of them get their water intake by drinking drops of water from the twigs and vegetation within the tank instead.
When shopping around for a praying mantis, make sure that you are clear on exactly what species of mantis you are being offered, and that you have researched its exact care requirements.
Specialist pet shops often stock praying mantises, although you may have to go some distance to find one! Many invertebrate enthusiasts keep and breed praying mantises of various different types, and often, the best way to buy from a knowledgeable and enthusiastic mantid keeper is to search online for other invertebrate enthusiast and breeders in your local area. Check out the Invertebrates section here on Pets4Homes for praying mantises for sale.
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