Praying Predators: Mantids in the vivarium

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Praying Predators: Mantids in the vivarium

Post  Admin on Fri Dec 28, 2012 6:33 pm

Praying Mantids are a fascinating group of predatory insects a truly fascinating insect, in my opinion the praying mantis makes an awesome choice of pet. Even for those who don’t like a lot of bugs can be often be persuaded to enjoy the antics of mantids. A praying mantis, or praying mantid, is the common name for an insect of the order Mantidae. Until recently only the family mantidae was recognized. Currently there are around 2400 species in about 430 genera, but this number is growing as we delve deeper in to uncharted areas of the world.

It’s maybe one of the most fascinating of insects to us humans however there one of the most feared among other insects. Praying Mantid, the ultimate master of disguise is a carnivorous insect with a very cannibalistic manner indeed. They can turn their triangular heads up to 180 degrees in search of a meal. Mantids can be found in the most tropical and sunny temperate zones of the world like USA, Africa, Indonesia and Australia. Like their relatives the Cockroaches, Mantids undergo simple or incomplete metamorphosis, they can go through several stages, the number of nymph stages varies between species and possibly as a result of food intake. It’s said that males and females can be sexed on the abdominal segments there being 6 in the female and 8 in the male. Mantis get their common name, Praying Mantis, as a result of sitting perfectly still with their front legs folded up as if there in prayer-but no these guys are certainly not praying…they are waiting for dinner! Or maybe mantids say grace before eating?

Purchasing your Mantid

I recommend that you never buy 1st or 2nd instar mantids, all too often they’re offered for sale and we think we’re getting a bargain when in fact were not. Any reputable breeder would have yours and your new pets best interest at heart and will not sell mantids that young for a number of reasons. Always buy mantids that are at least 3rd instar this way you know you are purchasing a successful, healthy predator.

All mantids are cannibalistic; though there are species that can be considered more “communal” shall we say. All hatchling mantids are generally ok to keep together, though after they shed their skin into the 2nd instar they quite often show an interest in preying upon each other. The general rule of thumb for housing a mantid is to provide an enclosure that is three times the length of the mantis in length and at least twice the height of the mantis in height; those “critter keepers” with locking tops were made for these guys I swear they were. You need one cage per mantid, the smaller cages make it easier for them to find their prey. However be sure to provide a larger cage as your mantid grows.


Orchid Mantis (Hymenopus coronatus)
To recreate the habitat for your mantis, you’ll need to remember that their natural habitat is tropical. Temperatures are one of the most important aspects of husbandry and one that can and often does vary with different species. Some species are tolerant of variations but some have very specific requirements, so always check your species and all its individual requirements before you purchase! After all it’s always better to be safe than sorry. The commonly kept African praying mantis should be kept at temperatures ranging 70-86 F (21-30 C). Keep humidity at around 60%…too much humidity might induce fungal growth, and too little could cause a bad moult.

Water: A mantid does not drink a lot of water but does appreciate the leaves in the cage being misted every day or so. If thirsty, the mantid can drink from the water droplets on the plants. Adult mantids drink regularly and adult females drink more water when they are producing eggs.

Substrate, Normally for your 1st or 2nd instar I would recommend paper towelling misted daily helps keep the moisture, although coco mulch can also be used. Make sure to add branches and leaves for camouflage and places to rest.

Mantids hunt during the day. They are ambush eaters using their camouflage to hide on plants ready to strike their prey. It sits very still and waits for its meal to come close. It will only eat living insects, quicker than the blink of an eye, the mantis grasps its meal with its front legs and then bites into its neck. A hungry Mantid faced with several smaller prey items is quite capable of holding the first prey it catches in one forelimb and striking and catching a second prey item with the other. After eating, the mantis will sit and cleans its legs and face just like a cat. Then it waits again, very still, for the next victim. Most species of mantids will eat fruit flies as young nymphs “micro-crickets” or even grasshoppers can and do make hearty mantis cuisine.

Molting

Nymphs tend to molt every couple of weeks as they mature the time in between each molt increases their last molt into adulthood usually take as long as 3-4 weeks. While the molting is in progress, it is vital that you do not disturb them, humidity is an important factor in the molting process, too much and it can stop them from drying out and arms and legs can sometimes become deformed. The mantis will hang upside down from a branch shake or spasm violently. Then after a while, it works out of its old skin and will hang out to dry. Make sure that it has plenty of space to hang, otherwise it might hit the ground with devastating results.

Reproduction

Praying Mantids are renowned for the females tendency to eat the male during, before, or even after copulation. For three days prior to introducing a male to the females both should be given as much food as they can eat, as hunger is slightly higher on their list of priorities than mating. When introducing the male to the female place the male at the back of the female to trigger response. Feed the female during mating to distract her attention from the male so that he can do his job in peace. It may take some time for the male to hop on her and initiate the mating process. Once it is done, you should separate the female from the male. During courtship if the female becomes frightened, her defensive reaction is to turn around, and decapitate him yet he is still able to pass sperm into her body, fact of the matter is that sexual cannibalism isn’t that uncommon in nature.


Ootheca
Eggs are laid in groups surrounded by a protective foam, called a ootheca. This is produced as a froth which hardens on contact with the air, building up the ootheca can take an hour or sometimes even longer. The oothecae can contain as little as 10 or over 200 eggs depending on the species. If the female is not well-fed she will lay small oothecae which contain very few eggs. Incubation is set at normal temperature you would keep your mantids; a light spaying with water about once a week helps to ensure the ootheca does not dehydrate.
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