African mantises (Sphodromantis lineola) are 3-4” long, diurnal, carnivorous invertebrates found throughout west and central Africa. They occupy forest and savanna habitats.
The African mantis has a triangular head, large eyes, long antennae, robust body, slender legs, and clawlike forelimbs. Coloring is usually green, but they can also be tan or brown.
The African mantis is a beginner-level pet mantis. However, juveniles can still be more sensitive, so it’s best to buy your first African mantis when it’s a bit older. Total lifespan for this species is 6-9 months, with females living longer, particularly at lower temperatures.
Minimum terrarium size for African mantises
The widely-accepted minimum formula for housing praying mantises is:
- Length = 2x mantis length
- Width = 2x mantis length
- Height = 3x mantis length
Height is particularly important, as mantises need vertical space in order to molt (shed their exoskeleton) and grow properly.
Using the above formula, the enclosure for an adult-sized African mantis should be at least 8”L x 8”W x 12”H and made of glass, plastic, or mesh. African mantis nymphs can be raised in a 32oz deli cup with a ventilated top until they’re large enough to move to their adult home.
Cohabitation is not recommended with African mantises, as they are prone to cannibalism.
Do African mantises need UVB?
If your mantis’ enclosure is placed in a room that receives ~12 hours/day of bright natural or artificial light, then additionally lighting equipment is unnecessary. However, if your mantis is being kept in a dark room or you wish to put live plants in the enclosure, then you will need additional lighting equipment such as a small white fluorescent or LED grow light around 6500K.
Best temperature for African mantises
If you are raising a young African mantis in a 32oz deli cup or Kritter Keeper, then it’s best to keep them at an ambient temperature of between 75-77°F.
If you are keeping an African mantis in an adult-sized glass or mesh enclosure, it’s best practice to provide a temperature gradient via heat lamp that will allow it to choose the temperature it wants to be at. The Zoo Med Nano Dome Lamp Fixture and 25w Zoo Med Nano Basking Spot bulb is a good combination to start with. Average air temperature should be between 70-80°F, and basking temperature between 82-86°F, which you can monitor with a digital thermometer placed in the middle of the enclosure.
Mantises tend to hang upside-down from the top of their enclosure, so if you put the lamp directly on top of the mesh, there’s a good chance that your pet will get burned! Instead, suspend the lamp from a lamp stand.
The heat lamp should be turned off at night. Nighttime temps should be no lower than 64°F.
Best humidity levels for African mantises
Providing the right amount of humidity is very important for making sure that your praying mantis is able to molt properly and stays generally healthy. Too high and too low will both cause problems. For the African mantis, their comfort zone is between 50-60% on average.
Lightly mist your mantis’ enclosure at least once per day with a spray bottle to both increase the humidity and provide drinking water. Mesh enclosures will need misting more often than glass or plastic ones.
Keep track of the humidity in your mantis’ enclosure with a digital hygrometer.
Best substrate for African mantises
Your African mantis terrarium should have at least 1-2” of substrate on the bottom to help maintain the humidity. Here are some moisture-friendly materials you can use:
- Zoo Med Creatures Eco Soil
- Zoo Med Creature Soil
- Zoo Med ReptiBark
- Eco Earth Plantation Soil
- Exo Terra Forest Bark
This substrate will need to be replaced weekly and the enclosure thoroughly rinsed out with hot water to maintain good hygiene.
Alternatively, you can use a bioactive-ready soil substrate with springtails, isopods, beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizae fungi, and live plants to create a bioactive setup. This can be a little complicated to balance, and requires additional research to create. However, the big benefit with bioactive is that it helps keep the enclosure clean by naturally breaking down waste.
How to decorate an African mantis terrarium
In order to reduce stress, prolong your mantis’ lifespan, and encourage natural behaviors, your African mantis needs both objects to climb and hide behind in its enclosure. Here are some ideas of things you can use:
- thin vines
- live plants
- artificial foliage
Use hot glue to attach climbing objects to the sides and bottom of the enclosure at different angles for variety. Hanging upside-down all the time may cause physical disfigurement in young mantids.
However you arrange your enclosure, make sure to leave enough open space at the top for twice your mantis’ height to use during molting.
What to feed to an African mantis
Praying mantises are carnivores, which means that they eat other insects and small animals in order to get the nutrition that they need. Offer prey every other day, as much as your mantis will eat in one session. Although you can let your mantis hunt its prey by simply tossing the bugs into the enclosure, it’s best to offer food via tweezers so you know for sure that your pet is eating.
Feeders should be live and no more than 1/3 your mantis’ length. Offer a variety of different bugs so your mantis can benefit from more balanced nutrition. Here are some options:
- Flightless fruit flies
- Rice flour beetles
- Bean beetles
- Black soldier flies and larvae
- Blue/green bottle flies
- Wax moths
Due to disease-related concerns, it’s best to avoid feeding crickets to your praying mantis.
Before offering prey to your mantis, make sure the prey has been well fed and hydrated for at least the last 24 hours. This helps maximize your mantis’ lifespan by making sure it’s getting quality nutrition from each of its meals. Here are some good formulas for gutloading feeder insects:
How to handle your African mantis
As a general rule, invertebrates are “look-but-don’t-touch” pets: fun to watch, but not to be handled regularly. This holds true for the African mantis. Instead, enjoy watching this aggressive species chase down its prey!
Never handle or otherwise disturb your mantis within ~3 days after a molt, as they’re very soft after molting, and get injured easily during this time. Note that molting (shedding) occurs every 2-3 weeks for juveniles and 3-4 weeks for subadults, and it’s normal for mantises to refuse food for 1-2 days before a molt.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!