Mantis are fascinating insects – and great food
Praying mantis are an interesting group to breed. Not only are they an excellent food source for most chameleons but they are interesting as pets in their own right. Newly hatched nymphs are eagerly eaten by small chameleons, including Brookesias.
As there are so many species, from many different habitats and ecosystems, it is not possible to give one simple set of guidelines regarding their care. As a rule of thumb, any exotic mantis requires high humidity whereas most local ones do not. Like all wildlife, there are exceptions.
Feeding most mantis is straight forward. They are aggressive predators and will eat most insects including crickets, cockroaches, grasshoppers, flies and moths, even silkworms. This is not always the case. Some foreign species will only eat flying insects and eating crickets will be fatal, so check carefully before feeding.
Sexing the adult mantis is generally easy. The female will often be larger and, in some cases, will only have rudimentary wings or none at all, while the smaller male is normally able to fly. Breeding mantis can be a challenge as the female has a deserved reputation for eating males but so long as the female has been well fed, the male may survive. To avoid problems ensure the female is fat, leaving her several weeks before introducing her to the male. Pairing can last a few minutes or several hours.
Once mated the female should be fed heavily and somewhere between two and four weeks later she will produce an ootheca, containing between 30 to 200 eggs, which will benefit from light spraying. Nymphs will normally hatch from one to four months later and the majority will hatch at the same time. After drying out they will scatter to find their own little perch where they will wait for food.
Caring for Nymphs
Fruit flies make an ideal food source for newly hatched nymphs but some nymphs are very small, so springtails and aphids are needed. Despite their cannibalistic tendencies, most nymphs can be kept together for the first few instars – if ample food is available. A few species can be kept together until they are adults but most cannot so when the number in the cage starts to drop it is time to separate them. The length of time spent as a nymph varies but is normally between two and four months. Adult females can live for over a year and produce more than six oothecae.
To learn more about how to keep a good supply of nutritious insects on hand for your chameleon, check out this book: Breeding Insects as feeder food