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Praying Mantis Food: All About What These Insects Eat

Praying Mantis Food
More than 2000 species of us are present in the mantidae family. The camouflage we have helps us blend into our surroundings and remain inconspicuous, till we get hold of our prey. We munch on all kinds of small insects and sometimes even enjoy small lizards, nestlings, etc.
Priya Johnson
Last Updated: Apr 3, 2018
Hi there.... I'm Sam, the praying mantis. Just thought I'd share about our food and feeding habits!
Mantis Sitting On a Red Flower Posing To The Camera
We praying mantises are the holiest of all insects! Have you ever seen other insects literally joining their hands to pray for their meals! Guess, we say the longest 'grace' as well! Our prayer-like stance is actually the position we take with our spiked forelegs, while waiting for our prey. Our powerful forelegs help us grasp and crush our prey. It's this prayer-like position we take that gives us the name 'praying mantis'. You may also hear the two terms 'praying mantis' and 'praying mantid' being used interchangeably. You can call us by either name! Moreover, most assume we are closely related to grasshoppers. On the contrary, we are more closely related to cockroaches, than to grasshoppers.
In the Wild
We're carnivorous....
Just because we bear semblance to plants doesn't mean we eat them. We're carnivorous and enjoy munching on grasshoppers, crickets, flies, leafhoppers, mosquitoes, butterflies, moths, cockroaches, bottle-cap flies, small spiders and other small insects we can find. Some of us believe in eating well and will even devour larger prey like mice, lizards, tree frogs, nestlings, etc. Our babies love munching on aphids and as they grow bigger they eat larger insects.
We love to catch our own prey...
Being predatory in nature, we naturally lie waiting for our prey. The camouflage we have helps us blend into the surroundings, enabling us to wait for our prey without being easily noticed. We sway with the wind and resemble swaying leaves, which is why we often go unnoticed till we close in on our prey. When our prey is close enough, we snap them up via the lightening movement of our puissant forelegs. Using our spiked forelegs (raptorial legs) we grab onto our prey and bite the neck to paralyze it. Then we enjoy our time, munching our catch, head downwards!
We have enormous appetites...
Oh how we praying mantids love to eat! Our babies enter the world with voracious appetites and are always on the look out to eat something or the other. In our case, how much we eat is directly proportional to our size. And if you think our youngsters eat a lot, you should see our pregnant women, who can eat massive insects and even mice, lizards, etc.
At times we can also be cannibalistic...
If there is a shortage of food supply, we have no option but to eat our own kind. After all, it's the survival of the fittest. In fact, our young ones enter this world practicing cannibalism. Most of the time, the first food our young ones have tasted are their own siblings! Sexual cannibalism also exists, wherein, sometimes our women bite off the head of the males and eat them during or after mating. How submissive and sacrificial our men are!
Feeding Us
We won't eat dead insects...
In the wild, we catch our own prey, however, in captivity we depend on you for our meals. We won't eat dead insects, so please make sure the insects you catch remain alive until we get our pincers on them.
Make sure our prey is smaller than us...
If you're so keen on getting us our lunch, please bring insects smaller than us in terms of size. Larger insects, especially spiders are not welcome. See, we appreciate your efforts, but we really do not wish to become the lunch of our would-be lunch. Preferably choose insects that we can hold with our forelegs. Having said that, make sure the size is not too small as well, because tiny flightless insects are difficult for us to grasp with our pincers.
Feeding frequency
We adults do not need to be fed daily and can do perfectly well with just a cricket every 2-3 days. Depending on our size, age and species type, the amount we eat will vary. Feeding us daily can prove deleterious, which is why it's better to feed us once every 3 days. However, this rule doesn't apply to our babies, juveniles and pregnant mantids, who sure are voracious and need to be fed daily. If you feed us well, we will stay with you without a problem, however, if we starve, we have to find our own way.
Capturing our prey
Female European Mantis
Butterfly nets and tweezers are two things you will need to capture food for us. Once the insect has been captured, get hold of it using the tweezers, however, make sure your grip is gentle, as you do not want to squish our dinner (We won't appreciate that!).
Feeding us...
Praying Mantis
We may not accept live insects presented on tweezers right away (Nothing personal.. we just prefer to catch our own prey..that's all!!). However, if you introduce it to us gently, eventually we will get used to eating insects off the tweezers. It may take some of us a few days to get used to it, but be persistent. Some of us may even agree to eat out of your hands. You can also directly place the live insects into our enclosure. However, the downside of this is that sometimes these insects (especially smaller ones) fly into crevices of the substrate and hide there. We have to then struggle to get them out. So it's better they aren't thrown in as they are.
Flies are yummy...
Flies are something we all enjoy devouring. However, the drawback is that a large number of flies are required to keep our tummies full. Collecting so many flies and feeding all of them on a regular basis can be quite a cumbersome task. Moreover, there's always the danger of these flies spreading in your house.
Feeding fruit flies
Praying Mantis
Fruit flies are also something we thoroughly enjoy. For fruit flies, you don't need to go to a pet store. All you have to do is place over-ripened fruit like mango, banana, etc. in a shallow dish and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Hold the wrap with a rubber band and pierce holes into it. Fruit flies will get attracted by the aroma from the fruit and enter through the holes, however, they won't be able to get out. You can then release the fruit flies into our enclosure. However, with fruit flies, there's always the risk of them flying and spreading all over your house. You can also get flightless fruit flies for us and our babies.
We like variety...
Male Praying Mantis
The other insects that we enjoy eating are wasps, moths, mealworms, butterflies, cockroaches, butterworms, grasshoppers, small spiders, crickets, waxworms, etc. We also eat honeybees, however, you must make sure the stingers have been removed. Ants are something we don't like because they bite and sting us terribly. We prefer insects with thinner exoskeletons simply because it's easier to chew. Maggots, aphids, rice flour beetles, or pinhead crickets can be fed to our little ones.
Don't have enough bugs for us?
If you haven't been successful in catching a few bugs a particular day, don't beat yourself up. You can easily purchase bugs from the pet store. Or else you can simply tie small pieces of meat to some string and dangle it into our enclosure (it may take time to get adjusted to food dangling down a string!). We aren't very fussy and will do our part of adjusting as well! Moreover, even for our little ones, tiny pieces of dangling meat will suffice. This allows our baby mantids to eat from the string.
Quenching our thirst...
Praying Mantis
No doubt, we do get water from the juicy prey we devour, however, since we are bred in captivity, we also depend on you for water. Placing a wet sponge in the enclosure or terrarium will satisfy our thirst needs. Moreover, you can also spray a little water on the inner surface of the terrarium, which we can easily lick off.
Don't get worried if we stop feeding...
Green Praying Mantis South Africa
There are certain stages in our lives when we will stop feeding. This is not because we don't like the food you brought us! It's simply because we are entering the molting phase. We stop feeding a few days before the onset of the actual molting process. Once we've molted and got out of our old skin, we're ready to eat again! It's our plea that you remove all uneaten insects from the enclosure before the molting takes place, because we are vulnerable in our new, thin exoskeleton, which other insects can take advantage of.
Two of us don't go together...
Praying Mantis On Branch
Placing two of us in the same enclosure is not such a good idea. You already know we exhibit cannibalistic behavior, thus, one will get eaten up. While breeding our babies, it's better to wait for a couple of days before you can separate them because they will eat each other and only the stronger ones remain. This may sound cruel to you, but we mantids are realists!
We help farmers...
Mantis Religiosa
Our voracious feeding habit apparently comes in handy for pest control. Farmers specially purchase our eggs from pet stores, because we eat away all the pests in the farm. However, the downside of this is that we also devour the beneficial insects (sorry, can't overcome the temptation!) along with the harmful ones. Nevertheless, our help is appreciated and we're always glad to be of service!