Stephanie started it! She found some in the wild and offered to share one. She brought the tiny praying mantis in a cute little bug cage. She even brought some fruit flies and their culture with them. I thought it was adorable, but I was busy and I delegated care to a staff member. I don’t know if it got too wet while misting, too dry from not misting or too much or too little food, but it died by the second day.
I was surprised by how sad it was that this tiny creature that could sit with all six legs on a dime was dead. After all, I deal with death on a routine basis. Some of these family members are more loved than some of the humans. These deaths affect me, but I have learned how to cope so that I am not devastated every time I do a euthanasia or a pet dies. The tiny mantis death got to me. I probably would have mourned and that would have been the end of it, but Becky Jo suggested we attend the Tri State Reptile Expo last weekend. Of course, with 6 year old twins and a 3 year old, travel with BJ is challenging at best, so Lindsay and I decided to drive separately.
Our plan was to walk through everything and go back and buy our stuff, if anything, but a wrong turn meant we had limited time to see everything. Half way through the exhibits, I saw a healthy, active, non color morph male ball python. M’Kinzy has been begging for a snake for quite a while. The healthy is important, because if you don’t start out with a healthy reptile, disaster almost always follows. The non color morph meant that it was much less expensive and the males do not lay eggs so he cannot become egg bound. I texted photos to M’Kinzy and she was over the top with enthusiasm. After verifying that it was healthy and affordable, she exclaimed that it looked like a noodle ball. The name stuck and Ramen Noodle is a now permanent resident (until she decides to take him to college).
By the time we were finishing up the purchase of the ball python, the vendors were getting ready to leave. This created somewhat of a sense of urgency and I may have bought more than I would have if we had all day. Suffice it to say, I came home with four leopard geckos, five Santa Isabel Phantasmal Dart Frogs, three tiny Mexican Redrump Tarantulas, some dubia roaches and two praying mantis. (The turtles and tortoises were more money than I wanted to spend.)
The reptiles and frogs were fairly easy to set up and care for, but I have not owned a praying mantis before and I must say, for a bug, they seem expensive. We talked with the lady that was selling them and she sent a care sheet.
I am amazed at how much they have a personality they have and how interesting they are! I have a cat’s eye mantis (looks like a stick) and a spiny flower mantis (adults look like a white and pink flower). There are many species of mantids that all have their own requirements. They can range in cost from a few dollars to almost a hundred dollars. All mantids are carnivorous (and must be housed separately). Lindsay has also been smitten and was the first to qualify to help feed them. She has purchased an orchid and a ghost mantid and some exotic walking sticks.
We both got nymphs or the stage right after hatching. An Ootheca is a giant (comparatively speaking) mass of eggs with a protective covering. Fifty to 200 tiny nymphs (also called instars) hatch and crawl out of the “ooth”. Each time they molt they shed their exoskeleton, get larger and reharden their new shell. They are aged by what instar level they are. Ours are instar 2 or 3 and will go through five to seven instars before adulthood. They live about 14 to 16 months, but most of this time is as a nymph. Each time they molt they are very fragile for 24 hours and must be protected and not handled. Mine now eat wingless fruit flies. I have a video of the baby spiny flower mantis sitting on my finger and hunting a fruit fly on my other hand. He/she flips out their tiny front legs and snags the fly. With magnification, you can see them crunch on the teeny fruit fly body.
They are still living in the plastic cups they came in. This is fine as long as the substrate is absorbent (paper towel or ecoearth) and they have something to climb on. Most species must be housed separately. Each species is different, but mine must be misted twice a day. These also are best at 72 degrees, but I have some on order that will need to be kept at 80 degrees. They will live in the reptile room. The mantises typically hang on the lid or in our case on a broken tongue depressor stick. They must have at least 3x longer than the body of the mantis and 2x wider, so they have plenty of space to molt and move around. The cage should also have proper ventilation. Mesh, screen, acrylic, glass, or plastic enclosures all work but make sure to match it to your species’ specific needs. Some need more/less humidity, some cannot climb smooth surfaces, etc.
The mantids will eventually get a plant and a bioactive substrate with isopods, but it is easier at this tiny size to keep them in a safer environment. As they molt and grow larger, they can be moved into a more diverse habitat.
I knew they would be interesting and less work than my labs. What I did not expect was the interaction with the mantids. They readily will climb on my finger and wait for me to take them hunting. Because of the movement of the leaves or stems that they hunt from, my finger moving toward the prey does not bother them. The cat’s eye mantis actually crawls on my finger then turns around in the direction that the hunt will be. Although they are ferocious hunters of fruit flies, they are fragile. You cannot pick them up, but rather must coax them. This requires quiet and patience.
Quiet and patience is something like meditation. I have never been good a meditating. I either fall asleep or forget I am meditating and start doing something. But these tiny creatures which have to be fed tiny food and exacting care are teaching me about quiet and patience. It seems like they are my form of bonsai growing. Stephanie said they were relaxing, but I didn’t get it until I had mine. Perhaps that is why Lindsay and BJ encouraged me to go to the show. I now have four species here with five more species, two ootheca, millipedes and stick insects on the way.