Keeping and Breeding the African Mantis
by Richard N. Adams
Sphodromantis is a genus seen frequently on the insect market today. Together with the genus Tenodera, they make up the vast majority of the pet preying mantids kept. Care for the different species appears similar within this genus in question and as such, this article can be taken as a good indication of how to keep most Sphodromantis species. The mantis itself is very variable in colour, being anything from dark brown, through bright green, to an unusual cream form. It reaches approximately 7cm in length, the adults being fully winged. They are very easy to breed and appear less moisture sensitive than is often suggested. As such they make for a better display, and are easier to look after.NEXT PAGE
Sphodromantis appear very undemanding in respects to their housing, the only problems encountered being those of providing a suitable environment for moulting. Ecdysis is the only problem stage in a mantids life, and if this can be overcome, it can be said that they are very easy to look after. It is difficult to find information on rearing mantids and so it is often necessary to devise your own methods. I have found the following very successful;
For 1st to 4th instars I leave all the mantids together in a large glass tank, sealed with sellotape to prevent escapees. The tank contains a substrate of vermiculite roughly 10mm deep, and the tank is filled with small twigs, providing places for the young mantids to hide and moult. In this setup, food must always be available, or the mantids will begin to cannibalise their siblings. I also strongly recommend a decent humidity is maintained at this stage in their development, though equally it is not desirable to have a soggy tank. If there are water droplets on the glass, it is possible that fatalities will occur because of drowning, and so a level of experimentation must be expected for success. At around the 4th instar, I split the mantids up into separate containers, as pace is usually becoming limiting at this point. I recommend using 'cricket tubs' as sold by many dealers in livefood, with a piece of kitchen roll folded to fit snugly inside.
The mantis is placed inside and the tub is stood on its end. This way, not onyl does the mantis have a tall tank, needed for moulting, without too much floor area being wasted, but it also means that the mantis has a strong foothold to enable it to catch its prey. This will usually be sufficient for some time, after which I suggest using 'Small Pal Pens' or glass aquariums for the mantids. The former are lighter and cheaper, and as humidity does not appear important to the adults, they are probably the best housing available. This time, the mantids do not need kitchen roll, as the grid on the roof of the tubs can be gripped perfectly satisfactorily. Once again a substrate of vermiculite is suggested though others can be experimented with. Sphodromantis appear indifferent to temperature, and I have successfully reared them to maturity in a centrally heated room with no extra form of warmth. Obviously it goes without saying that the warmer you keep them (within reason) the faster they will grow, but I have found they can live and thrive at room temperature. Often the initial outlay for an insect, tank, heater etc. can prevent many potential keepers from investing in a mantis. The heater being nonessential should make this mantis more polular with insect lovers.
As already stated they appear less moisture sensitive than is often agreed, and I have raised Sphodromantis with nothing but an occasional light misting. It appears unneccessary to keep them constantly humid, indeed apart from the first few instars, humidity appears to have no effect on the mantis. I have reared mantis from roughly 25mm (4th moult) with absolutely no added moisture, other than that which they get from their prey.
Feeding should be on demand, usually every 2-3 days but don't be alarmed if the mantis eats less frequently. They should be fed on items of an appropriate size, ranging from pinhead crickets and Drosophila for newly hatched mantids, to adult balck field crickets (Gryluss) and hoppers (5th instar locusts) for adults. Incidentally, in the setup suggested for young mantids, Drosophila have been found to be a better source of food than crickets. This is because the Drosphila climb to the top of the cage, while the criskets tend to remain on the floor. As such, where fruit flies are concerned, the food comes to the mantis, rather than the other way around.
Moulting is a fascinating process to watch, though is the time when the mantis is most vulnerable. During moulting, the mantis is defenceless, and so one must ensure that no livefood inhabits the tank otherwise there is a chance the mantis itself will besome dinner. It is not uncommon for a cricket, for example, to start nibbling at a helpless mantis, and sometimes this is the end. Sphodromantis appears to moult every ten to fourteen days at 25'C. The most interesting moult of all in my opinion is that in which the mantis moults to maturity. Seeing thw ings unveiled is a treat to be sure, and the size increase between the old abdomen and the new has to be seen to be
Although most mantids will moult successfully without much additional humidity, it is recommended that you spray the tank just before a moult just to be on the safe side. There are few indications that a mantis is coming up to moult apart from a worrying tendency to stop eating for sometimes weeks at a time. Then one morning you glance into the tank, to find your mantis has moulted and everything is alright after all. It can be quite a relief!
Breeding this species is very simple indeed. Firstly you will need a male and female of course. When mature, the two sexes, though roughly the same length, have very different builds. The males abdomen is much thinner than the females, and he appears generally more puny. From about the 4th moult onwards, it is possible, with a little practise, to sex the mantids by counting their abdominal segments. The males have 8, and the females 6. With a handlens, the job is quite simple, and identifying a pair should be no problem. When the pair have matured, it is worth leaving them two to three weeks, before trying to breed them. During this time, one should feed the adults as much as possible to ensure that a) they are fit and healthy for reproducing, and b) the female is full of food, and so less likely to eat her mate.
When the day of breeding is upon you, I recommend setting up a tank with nothing but a dfiagonal piece of corkbark in it. The female is placed on this, and then the male introduced from behind. Now you must not take your eyes off them. It is possible that the female will lunge at the male, and if this happens, remaove the male as quickly as possible. I have rescued the male from the arms of a female, and he has lived a full and happy life thereafter, so don't just give up because the female attacks him. if the female does not grab the male, he will more than likely mount her. If they are taking a long time (more than a few minutes) it does not appear to do any harm, to nudge the male towards the female. Once on top of the female, the male will curl his abdomen round so that the ends of their abdomens are touching. They will remain in this position for anything from a few minutes, to a few days, though an average appears to be 12 - 14 hours in copulation. Often the female will eat the male after mating, and if you don't look into the tank at the right time he will be gone. The mating continues, it appears, no matter what, and turning the light out in the evening will do no harm. When you switch the light on in the morning, you will most likely still find them fixed in the same position.