Caring For Your
As Halloween approaches, some say the veil between the worlds becomes thinner, that apparitions and spirits can cross over and venture into our very homes. But this Halloween, you don’t have to believe in ghouls, spirits or trapped souls to have a ghost in your house. I am, of course, referring to this delightful oddity: the ghost mantis. A pet that is sure to fascinate, and maybe even scare, anyone who looks at it. If your interest is piqued by the idea of a spooky little critter, here’s what you need to know about owning one of your very own.
The first step to caring for your new mantis is to provide a home for it. Anything from a plastic cup with some mesh attached to the top to an elaborate vivarium setup can work well for a mantis, depending on its size and age. The Nature Nook usually maintains that bigger is better when it comes to enclosures, but ghost mantises don’t really hunt – they prefer to lie in wait using their phenomenal dead-leaf camouflage to lure unsuspecting prey into a false sense of security. A ghost mantis will gently sway to simulate the light flutter of foliage caught in a breeze. Your pet may even perform this slightly unnerving, yet fascinating dance while sitting on your hand. As they don’t hunt, a large enclosure can make it hard for a small mantis to locate food. However, the enclosure should still be at least 3 times the length of the mantis in height and twice its length in width.
The natural habitat of the ghost mantis is Madagascar and Central Africa, which means it is well adapted to warm and humid climates. A heat mat or lamp will therefore need to be placed on one side of the enclosure, although you should ensure that there is a cooler side, too. The temperature should be around 20-30°C and checked regularly using a thermometer inside the enclosure.
To maintain the correct level of humidity, you can also use a humidity sensor. The ghost mantis differs from some other mantis species in that it requires a very high humidity of 50-70%. To maintain this, spray the enclosure with bottled distilled or spring water as needed. Every other day can be sufficient if the enclosure is largely plastic or glass and retains moisture well, although a mesh enclosure may need spraying up to twice a day. Avoid spraying the mantis directly, but ensure some droplets of moisture are always close to the mantis to allow it to drink.
Ghost mantises have one more spooky little trick up their sleeves. Not only do they sway like dead leaves in the breeze, but they can actually crawl out of their very own skin! Your mantis will need an enclosure with a mesh lid to allow it to perform this creepy behaviour. They cling to the roof of their enclosures and use gravity to help them pry themselves from their skin. They do this because their hard exteriors, or exoskeletons, do not allow the insects to grow. Ghost mantises must therefore discard their older, smaller skin to emerge larger than before. They will do this seven times during their life, each time becoming bigger until they reach their maximum size of roughly 5cm long.
Now that the enclosure is warm and humid it’s time to decorate! A substrate should be provided that retains water to aid in keeping that nice moist environment. Coconut bark or Eco Earth can make fantastic natural substrates, but while the mantis is small it can be easier to simply use paper towels. This allows small prey to be more visible to the mantis and ensures that your tiny new pet doesn’t camouflage so well that you can’t spot it. If you’re using a natural substrate, it can be easy for mould to build up, so the addition of springtails can make for a healthier bioactive set-up.
As well as a substrate, you’ll also want to provide a means for your mantis to climb from the top to the bottom of the enclosure to allow it to seek prey and move from warmer to cooler spots. If your enclosure is very large or elaborate, it may be easier to place your mantis into a smaller container such as a plastic cup while feeding so that you can more closely monitor its eating. And that leads us onto the next most important point of caring for this spooky little pet.
It’s vital that the prey is never a threat to your mantis, so size is an important consideration. Some say that prey should be roughly the size of your mantis’ head, while others say any prey it will eat, it can eat. What’s important, though, is that you don’t leave prey hanging around in the enclosure that may distress your mantis. This is why it may be easier to transfer your mantis into a smaller container or keep it in a simple, converted mason jar or plastic cup. To convert a plastic cup or mason jar, simply line it with a paper towel, insert a stick leaning against the side to allow the mantis to easily climb all the way to the top of the container, then stretch either some tights or a paper towel over the top to prevent the mantis or its prey escaping.
Ghost mantises prefer flying prey as this is what they would primarily eat in their natural habitat, although they can and will consume other small insects such as roaches or hoppers. For the first few moults (from L1 all the way to L5 or sub-adult) they can eat fruit flies, although a sub-adult will likely also accept a housefly. Once it is fully grown, you can present larger prey such as moths or glass-climbing roach nymphs. You’ll be able to tell when your mantis is hungry as its abdomen will look more deflated. When they seem hungry, either dangle prey in front of it, or place the prey into the mantis’ enclosure and monitor to ensure they are caught. Never attempt to force your mantis to eat. As they develop, they will usually eat daily, although they will stop eating for a few days when they are about to shed, so if they don’t want to eat this is nothing to worry about. As they get larger, the meals may need to be less frequent since a larger meal will last longer. It’s always best to judge how hungry your mantis is and allow meals to be on their terms.
Lifespan and growth
A healthy, well-kept ghost mantis can live roughly 8 months, although it is worth noting that they are delicate creatures and will sometimes have shorter lifespans due to subtle problems in their care or complications beyond the control or detection of their owners. A very small, newly hatched ghost mantis in the first instar, or growth stage (known as L1) will moult for the first time after roughly two weeks, whereupon it will reach the second instar (L2). It will take the ghost mantis slightly longer than that to progress to L3 and then L4. From L4 to L5 can take up to a month, and around five weeks between L5 and L6, after which they are considered sub-adult. From sub-adult to fully mature adult (L7) can take as long as three months. The older a ghost mantis, the less humidity is required to aid it in the moulting process. While your mantis is moulting, it’s best to leave it well alone and never attempt to assist it.
Interestingly, the level of humidity will also impact the colour of your mantis. A ghost mantis kept in cooler temperatures with higher humidity will be a more green-tinted colour, while a high temperature and low humidity will darken its colour.
As your mantis develops, you may want to consider breeding. Thankfully, ghost mantises are far less prone to cannibalism than many other species. Given enough space and food, two mantises of roughly the same size can be housed together, while more experienced keepers can keep them in small groups. Because of this, breeding presents less of a risk to the life of your male than it does in other mantis species, where the female may eat her mate. However, even ghost mantises should always be carefully monitored and only bred by experienced keepers who will be able to provide the safest possible environment. Regardless of your intent to breed, however, a female unmated mantis will still produce oothecae (egg sacks) after roughly 2-3 weeks of being fully mature. A female will normally produce around six oothecae, but some have been known to lay as many as 12.
And there you have the basic care of ghost mantises. Here at The Nature Nook, we have thoroughly enjoyed keeping our new pet ghost mantis Persephone and overall consider them to be relatively low maintenance and appropriate for most adults, even those without much experience of insect keeping. They are, however, very delicate and are thus inappropriate pets for most children. Please remember that no pet is a decoration or seasonal accessory, and every pet, no matter how small, requires extensive research. If this article has inspired you to have your very own pet ghost, please ensure you are very ready for all elements of their care first!
In the run-up to Halloween, learn about some other spooky creatures here at The Nature Nook, including the grisly habits of the burying beetle, the ancient, blood-sucking lamprey, and, of course, the legendary vampire bat.