There are numerous (over 2000 and counting) species of mantids. Several of these are available within the insect hobby, such as the African Praying Mantis species (actually more than one species - Sphodromantis belachowski, centralis, gastrica, vidiris and lineola ), which are suitable for beginners. Check out these pictures of praying mantises.
Mantids range from less than an inch up to 6 or more inches in length, depending on the species and sex. However, the most commonly kept pet species of praying mantis are in the range of 2-3 inches or so.
Expected Life Span of a Praying Mantis:
The expected life span of a praying mantis depends on the species, but the maximum is about a year for the entire life cycle. However, most will only live as adults for about 6 months (less for some species of praying mantis).
Mantids come in a huge range of sizes, shapes and colors. Some look like twigs (and use this as camouflage), some resemble crumpled dead leaves, and others have brightly colored and delicate features that make them look like blossoms. They also come from a variety of climates (mostly tropical). However, all mantids are carnivores, feeding mainly on other insects and spiders (some of the larger mantids may even eat small amphibians and reptiles).
Housing a Praying Mantis:
Mantids should be housed individually. However, a praying mantis needs only a small tank -- generally a tank should be at least twice as wide and three times as tall as the mantid, but not much larger than that. If the tank is too large, the mantid will have a hard time finding its prey. A tank about 12 inches by 12 inches, by 12 inches tall is a good size for most praying mantises. The height of the tank is important to provide space for molting. A mesh top is preferred, and mesh openings on th side are good if possible.
Substrate and Furnishings:
A substrate of an inch or two of soil, peat, peat or soil mixed with sand, or vermiculite can be used in the bottom of the tank for a pet praying mantis. This will help retain moisture. Several twigs should be provided and should reach almost to the top of the tank as the mantid will need space to hang from a twig for molting. Live potted plants or artificial plants can be used too, but make sure not to overcrowd the tank. Your praying mantis will need space to move about, hunt, and molt.
This is one of the most important aspects of husbandry and one that can vary with different species. Some species are tolerant of variations but some have very specific needs, so check your species! The commonly kept African praying mantis (the species listed above) should be kept at 70-86 F (21-30 C). If additional heat is necessary a small undertank heating mat can be used (as sold for reptiles and hermit crabs). For species caresheets try DeShawn's Mantid Kingdom.
Humidity and Water:
The required humidity also varies by praying mantis species (e.g. the African mantis requires 60% humidity). Regular light misting of the tank will help provide humidity. A small, shallow water dish containing pebbles or a piece of sea sponge to prevent drowning can also be provided and will provide a humidity boost. Most mantids will get their water intake by drinking water droplets off vegetation provided by misting (some may use the water dish). Be careful the humidity does not get too high.
Feeding a Praying Mantis:
A variety of feeder insects should be provided for your praying mantis. The best way to make sure nutritional needs are met is to feed a number of different kinds of prey (fruit flies and aphids for nymphs, instars and smaller mantids, and a variety of flying insects such as moths, fruit flies, and house flies along with an occasional cricket or mealworm for larger ones). Make sure the prey has been gut loaded (feed a vitamin enriched food to the prey, which will be passed on to the mantis).
As always, check your local laws before deciding on a praying mantis as a pet as they may be illegal where you are.
DeShawn's Mantid Kingdom: great site with several species-specific care sheets.
Interesting mantid facts
- Mantid Terminology: the term mantid and mantis are often used interchangeably. Technically, the term mantid is the correct way to refer to all mantids, or members of the (sub)order "Mantodea." The term Mantis is technically limited to members of the genus "Mantis" within this large family. The term praying mantis may have originally referred to a specific species, (Mantis religiosa, the European mantis) but now the terms praying mantid (and praying mantis) are used widely to refer to any of the large family of mantids. The "praying" descriptor arose from the way the that mantids hold their grasping front legs, as if in prayer.
- Mantids go through simple (incomplete) metamorphosis, so rather than having a larval stage (such as a caterpillar) they start out as very small wingless replicas of the adult (nymphs) that grow and mature in several successive molts.
- Mantids are marketed in gardening circles as pest control aids.
More Information - Good Pet Mantid Sites