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How to Care for Your African Mantis

How to Care for Your African Mantis

The African mantis (Sphodromantis lineola) is a medium-large, diurnal, carnivorous invertebrate primarily native to west and central Africa. Their preferred habitat is forest and savanna.

African mantises have a fairly typical praying mantis appearance with a long, sticklike body, large eyes, a triangular head, long thin antennae, a robust body, long thin legs, and serrated forelimbs. Their wings are functional. They are fairly large for praying mantises, and average 3-4” long. Coloring is usually green, but some are tan or brown.

African mantises are very popular as pets, and generally considered beginner-level mantises. However, for maximum survivability, it’s best to buy a pet African mantis as an adult or subadult. Total lifespan is up to 6-9 months, depending on sex and the temperature at which it’s kept.

How much space do African mantises need?

The general rule with housing praying mantises is that the enclosure length and width should be at least twice that of the mantis, and the height should be at least three times the mantis’ length. 32oz deli cups with fabric vented lids often work well for juveniles. Adults and subadults should be housed in a Kritter Keeper, terrarium, or mesh box measuring at least 8”L x 8”W x 12”H, such as the Exo Terra Mini Wide Terrarium.

African mantises are aggressive hunters and highly cannibalistic, so they should NEVER be housed together!

Do African mantises need UVB?

As long as the mantis’ enclosure is in a room that receives ~12 hours/day of artificial or bright natural light, then additional lighting equipment is unlikely to be necessary. However, if it is being kept in a dark room or the terrarium contains live plants, then ~6500K fluorescent or LED illumination is required.

What basking temperatures do African mantises need?

African mantises usually do well between 70-80°F, so they can be kept at room temperature. Avoid temperatures above 86°F and below 64°F. Ideal ambient temperature for nymphs is 75-77°F. Keep track of the temperatures inside your enclosure with a digital thermometer like the Zoo Med Digital Thermometer & Humidity Gauge, with the probe placed in the middle. 

It’s best practice to provide a temperature gradient within the enclosure so they can self-regulate their body temperature according to their needs and preference. To prevent potential overheating, avoid using heat sources with mantis nymphs. However, it should be safe to use a heat lamp in a full-size mantis enclosure. 

To provide a “basking spot” for your African mantis, use a Zoo Med Nano Dome Lamp Fixture with a low-wattage heat bulb like the 25w Zoo Med Nano Basking Spot or similar. Place this on the extreme left or right of the enclosure. Do not place the lamp on top of the mesh, as this can burn your mantis. Instead, suspend the lamp from a Zoo Med Reptile Lamp Stand or similar. The heat lamp should be turned off every night.

Note that heat lamps should not be used with Kritter Keepers or other plastic-top enclosures.

What humidity levels do African mantises need?

Humidity is very important for successfully keeping praying mantises as pets, as it helps ensure successful molting and general wellbeing. The African mantis requires average humidity levels of 50-60% to stay healthy.

To increase and maintain healthy humidity levels, lightly mist your mantis’ enclosure with a spray bottle at least 1x/day. If you are using a mesh rather than glass/plastic enclosure, then you will likely need to spray more heavily and more often.

Humidity levels should be monitored with a Zoo Med Digital Thermometer & Humidity Gauge or similar with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure. 

What substrate is good for African mantises?

Substrate is important to an African mantis setup because it helps maintain healthy humidity levels. Many mantis keepers prefer to use a bioactive soil substrate with springtails, isopods, beneficial bacteria and fungi, and live plants because it makes it easier to keep the enclosure clean. However, bioactive can be complicated to get right if you’re new to it, so here are some other substrate options:

You don’t need very much substrate. Depending on the size of the enclosure, 1-2” should be plenty. However, you will need more for the plants’ roots if you plan to create a bioactive setup.

To keep your African mantis’ enclosure clean, replace the substrate weekly and completely rinse out the enclosure and décor with hot water. Don’t use soap or disinfectants, as the residue may harm your pet!

What décor can you use in an African mantis terrarium?

African mantises like having things to climb and hide behind in their enclosure. This encourages natural behaviors, which makes them more fun to watch, and decreases stress, which in turn increases lifespan. Here are some ideas:

Climbing objects should be arranged at a variety of angles to give your mantis options. Not having to hang upside-down all the time also helps prevent potential disfigurement. Hot glue is excellent for adhering climbing objects and artificial foliage to terrarium walls.

Make sure to leave an open space at the top of the enclosure twice the height of your mantis for molting.

What do African mantises eat?

Praying mantises are carnivorous, which means that they eat other insects and sometimes even small animals. Avoid overfeeding, as this will shorten your pet’s lifespan. Food should be offered every other day, as much as your mantis will take — they stop eating when they’re full. (Note that praying mantises will refuse food for 1-2 days before molting.) African mantises are enthusiastic hunters, so it can be fun to drop prey insects into the enclosure one at a time for your mantis to chase down and devour. Doing this one at a time helps you keep track of how much your pet is eating.

As a general rule, feeders should be live and no larger than 1/3 of the mantis’ length. Options include:

Flying prey is particularly favored, but avoid offering bees or wasps. Due to parasite/disease concerns, it’s generally considered best practice to avoid using crickets as feeders for praying mantises. Uneaten prey should be removed from the enclosure after 24 hours.

All feeders should be generously hydrated and gutloaded for at least 24 hours prior to offering to your mantis. This makes sure that your pet gets the best nutrition possible from its meal. Good foods for feeder insects include:

Another way to make sure your mantis gets balanced nutrition is to offer a wide variety of different types of feeder insects.

Do African mantises like to be handled?

Generally speaking, it’s best practice not to handle pet invertebrates very much, if at all, and this certainly applies to the African mantis. Instead, enjoy watching this vivacious mantis as it chases down prey!

Do not handle or otherwise disturb your mantis within 3 days or so after a molt, as the exoskeleton is particularly soft after molting, making them vulnerable to injury. Molting occurs every 1-2 weeks for juveniles and less frequently as they near adulthood.

*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.

"African Praying Mantis" by Destinys Agent is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
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