12 August 2022

Dogs, Cats…Praying Mantises?

Yes, praying mantises are my all-time favorite bug, and yes, I wrote a verse about praying mantises for a creative writing course (see blog post Praying Mantis Photo Addendum). Why bring up praying mantises and a 10-year old blog post? Because I was unaware that praying mantises had become a popular domestic pet.

Welcome back. Thousands of people the world over have adopted praying mantises or stick insects as pets. Purchased at fairs and pet markets or collected in the wild, these insects are gaining increased popularity for a largely unknown market. The implications for their biology and conservation are complex and difficult to predict.

An orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus), one of the more beautiful praying mantis (from everywherewild.com/orchid-mantis).

Rearing mantises requires at least some basic knowledge of their biology, which has yet to be detailed by scientific literature. The conservation of mantises is also largely unexplored, suffering data deficiencies in taxonomy, population trends, threats and the impact of commerce. Almost no data exist on collection activities, quantities in the wild or how collecting may impact a species.

In an effort to fill some of these gaps, researchers with Italy’s Museo di Archeologia e Scienze Naturali and World Biodiversity Association Onlus, together with an entomologist from Las Vegas, completed and recently published the first overview of the praying mantis international trade.

Two spiny flower mantises (Pseudocreobotra-wahlbergii) (from Kathleen McBride
Praying Mantis Survey
The research team collected information through an online anonymous survey, translated into different languages. They distributed the survey primarily though social media and web communities known to deal with mantises or general entomology.  

The survey consisted of 24 questions on the motivation to buy and rear mantises, market relationships, knowledge of the international animal trade market and regulations, and perception of problems and opportunities that arise from buying and rearing mantises.

In all, the team compiled and processed 181 surveys from 28 countries. Survey responders ranged from 19 to 30 years old. Most bought mantises out of curiosity or for scientific or professional interest. They frequently collected a mantis in the wild, usually rearing it until its natural death or releasing it near the place of capture. Their average knowledge of mantis trade legislation was mostly low or fragmented, especially at the international level.

Responders’ Preferences

Although more than 80 genera of mantis are sold and reared, 6 are most common and preferred.

A giant Asian mantis, the most common and preferred mantis genus (Hierodula Burmeister) (from mobile.twitter.com/hashtag/hierodula?src=hash).
Beautiful looking species are preferred over rare ones, and the ease of rearing the species is essentially irrelevant.

The price of $20 to $30 was considered good for a single mantis, though the typical breeder or enthusiast was willing to pay more for a beautiful species and about a quarter of responders would spend above average for an exclusive or rare species.

The preferred choice of insect stage was mostly young nymphs or oothecae (egg case), which are usually less expensive than adults. A low price is sometimes more important than the stage, yet many buyers also consider shipping (e.g., distance and time for transport).

Oothecae of devil’s flower mantis (Idolomantis diabolica) sold through Facebook groups related to mantis enthusiasts (from jor.pensoft.net/article/71458/).

Buyers and Sellers
The relationship between buyer and seller is usually transparent (73%), taking place mostly on the white market. Still, about a quarter of transactions leave the buyer perceiving a lack of transparency or are done without appropriate permits.

In shipping, the contents of a package of living mantis is often explicit, but the insect is not usually declared, mostly in an attempt to bypass customs or avoid problems caused by delayed delivery.

Sellers rarely declared collecting in the wild, yet it was privately communicated or understood by the buyer in a quarter of transactions.

Predicting the Future Market
Based on the responders’ preferred mantis characteristics, the researchers devised the following formula to predict how the market might evolve and which species may be the targets of trade in the near future:


where V is the economic value of each species, S shape, C colors, B behaviors, D dimensions, E ease of breeding and R market rarity.

Wrap Up

The researchers conclude that hobbyists and pet-insect enthusiasts are producing and sharing a huge quantity of observations on the biology and ecology of praying mantis species. Strengthening the dialogue with the scientific community, promoting a white market over a black one, may provide a crucial assist for the conservation of these fundamental elements of the biodiversity of our planet.

Thanks for stopping by.


Example articles on praying mantises as pets:
Wikipedia article on mantises: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantis
Study of the pet mantis market in Journal of Orthoptera Research: jor.pensoft.net/article/71458/
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/953175

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