Steve Bender

 

Here's looking at you, kid! Photo: prometheus.med.utah.ed

Looking for an unusual pet? One that doesn't bark, shed, need shots or a litter box, and will look you straight in the eye with obvious affection? Then you need a praying mantis!

An insect for a pet? Why not? Can you honestly say pet rats, hedgehogs, toads, hermit crabs, ferrets, and encyclopedia salesmen are any weirder? No, you cannot.

About 2,400 species of mantises exist worldwide, ranging in size from tiny ones about an inch long to giants more than five inches long. You instantly recognize them by their triangular heads with two bulbous eyes and their folded, spiny forelegs they hold in a "praying position," hence, the name. Their swiveled heads can turn 180 degrees to watch you, which is both cool and makes you glad you're so much bigger than they are. These ambush predators usually wait motionless on a leaf and branch that matches their color for an unsuspecting bug to walk by, then seize it with their forelegs and devour it head-first. ("Dibs on the brains!")

Although mantises are often praised as beneficial insects for eating a raft of destructive insects such as flies, caterpillars, beetles, and roaches, in truth they're garden-neutrals. They'll eat anything they can overpower, including bees, butterflies, small lizards, and (horrors!) even hummingbirds. And if a prehistoric one the size of a Boeing 747 gets loose, humans are on the menu too, as demonstrated by this famous documentary film produced by the Defense Department.

Fortunately, this rarely happens.

Our most common mantis in the South is the native Carolina praying mantis (Stagnomantis carolina). It's usually green, but can be brown. Females grow 2 to 3 inches long and males a little smaller. Its egg case looks like a tiny loaf of bread. Each one of those chambers contains a baby mantis just waiting to meet you.

 

Carolina mantis egg case. Photo: Connie Schulz

Another common one is a giant introduced from China, the Chinese praying mantis (Tenodera aridifolia). It grows up to five inches long and can be green, tan, brown, or a combo of these colors.

 

Chinese mantis. So cute, so lovable! Photo: cirrusimage.com

The egg case of the Chinese mantis looks like a blob of hardened foam.

 

Chinese mantis egg case. Photo: wikipedia.org

Oh, Sure, Just Bite Off My Head! One myth about praying mantises Grumpy would like to dispel is that immediately after mating, the female bites off the male's head and eats him. While this does occur on occasion -- like when she's really hungry or he forgets her birthday -- this is by no means the rule. Still, it pays to be careful.

 

This is what happens when the male fails to do due diligence on Ashley Madison.

Getting Started With Praying Mantises Now that you desperately want a pet praying mantis, how do you get started? Where does one go to find a tiny mantis leash or chew toy? Fortunately, websites abound that can help you purchase mantis egg cases, mantis cages, mantis food, and mantis treats. Try Mantis Pets or The Praying Mantis Shop. And don't worry about mantises biting you -- they won't do that. Well, except if they're as big as a 747. Then all bets are off.

 

 

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