Want a Weekend Pet? Catch a Praying Mantis
Conventional wisdom says that a keeping a pet is a serious, long-term commitment. But if you are fickle and lazy you might prefer a pet that you can take care of just for a weekend and then return it to wherever it came from. Praying mantises captured from the wild are ideal for pet owners who can only commit to keeping a pet for a few days.
Temporarily keeping an insect as a weekend pet (or full week pet) can also be a fun educational activity for children in the classroom or at home. If Junior has been begging you non-stop for a puppy or pony, first see how well he can take care of a low-maintenance pet like a bug caught from the wild. Here is a guide to setting up a temporary home for a praying mantis and taking good care of it.
Things You Will Need
- Plastic container
- Twigs, rocks, and leaves
- Spray bottle
- Crickets, flies, moths or other live prey
- Praying mantis
Choosing a Terrarium or Vivarium
Set up the terrarium or vivarium ahead of time so that you can make your praying mantis feel right at home as soon as you bring it home.
You don't have to get fancy with its enclosure. The width, length, and height of the tank or container only need to be about 3 times the length of the mantis, though larger is better. You can use a small fish tank, or any kind of sealable see-through container with air holes. The large plastic boxes of salad you buy at the grocery store are perfect. Big mayo jars, pop-up mesh bags, and plastic "critter habitats" found at pet stores are also good. Plenty a weekend pet has been kept comfortably in a 3-liter soda bottle. Tupperware containers and milk jugs are not so good because you can't really see through them. Whatever you use, just make sure you poke enough holes in it so your insect can breathe.
Interior Decorating for Praying Mantises
Mantises like to climb and hang upside down on things, so you need to lay at least one long stick in the terrarium. If you use a tall container like a soda bottle, you can cut holes in the sides and poke sticks through them to make monkey bars or pull-up bars just like a child's jungle gym.
Gather things from the area where you found your praying mantis such as leaves, sticks, pine needles, rocks, patches of moss, pine cones, bark, and grass. Make sure the natural surroundings you put in the vivarium are secure and cannot fall on the insect. This is especially important if the mantis happens to molt in your care (more on that below.) If you want to have a little fun with your bug, put a small mirror inside.
Food and Water for the Praying Mantis
To give your mantis a smooth transition from the wild to captivity, obtain food for it ahead of time. Praying mantises are predators that eat smaller live critters such as crickets, flies, moths, earthworms, "roly polies," and beetles. Any pet store will have crickets, but it is more fun and educational to collect mantis food from the wild. The easiest way to do this is wait until dark when moths gather around your outdoor lights. Then save the live bugs in a container with some air holes.
Praying mantises are not picky eaters and will feast on almost anything they can catch, but to be on the safe side you should not give them spiders or any other kind of predator or venomous critter. Your mantis will not eat dead things unless it is very desperate. If you can't find suitable food, it's better to let it go hungry for a little while than to give it something inappropriate. They need one or two bugs a day. Just drop the prey in its enclosure and watch it go to work.
Praying mantises will not drink from water bowls; they suck small droplets of condensation from leaves and other surfaces. To give your insect enough water, use a spray bottle to mist the inside of the enclosure once or twice a day.
To Catch a Predator
The hardest part about keeping a wild-caught praying mantis as a pet is catching one in the wild. In the US, mantises are plentiful in the south and along the humid coasts. They are found all over the temperate parts of Europe and Asia as well. Mantises like both gardens and undeveloped natural areas, but most of all they like places where prey is plentiful. The best way to catch one is with your fingers. They are inquisitive creatures, not shy, and will readily crawl into your hands if you don't act scary. Keep a small container with a lid handy because as soon as it gets in your hand it will run up your arm and over your back and on your head to figure out what you are. If you wait around too long while it is exploring you it may get bored and fly away.
An urban myth that has been circulating around the United States is that praying mantises are endangered and it is illegal to kill or catch them. This is untrue.
Keeping Your Praying Mantis Safe
Molting is the process of an insect shedding its exoskeleton, and there is a small chance your praying mantis will molt while in temporary captivity. During this time it will be soft and vulnerable to getting injured. Don't give it live prey or play with it until its new exoskeleton has hardened.
Although it is fun to let them crawl around your arms you should avoid handling them too much. They are delicate creatures that can get injured by rough, curious children.
Praying mantises will kill and eat other mantises, even of the same species. Putting two in the same enclosure is re-enacting Thunder Dome. Females really do behead and eat males during and after mating, especially in captivity.
Releasing Your Mantis Back into the Wild
When you are bored of being a mantis owner, release it in the same spot where you found it. If you're lucky, you might get to see it spread its wings and fly away.
- If you like taking care of mantises caught from the wild, consider getting a mantis specially bred for captivity as a longish-term pet. They live for about one year.
- The most common names for pet praying mantises are Manny and Mantis Toboggan (a reference from the TV show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia).
- Praying mantises lay eggs in case called an ootheca. Females lay them in the fall and they hatch in the spring as nymphs. Unless you want a hundred teeny tiny mantises in your house, leave an ootheca in the wild.