It seems that the praying mantis is becoming more and more popular as a pet. Sure, they’ve been at the top of the list for insect aficionados for quite some time now – and for a good reason!
Praying mantis is an utterly fascinating creature that has a lot to offer to its potential owner – but nowadays, even those who’ve never been particularly fond of insects seemed to have warmed somewhat.
This increased popularity also calls for increased knowledge. After all, if you decide to keep it as a pet, you should know how to keep it happy: what foods it will like, what temperatures are optimal, so on and so forth. And one of the things you should definitely know is how to tell if a praying mantis is dying.
To answer this question shortly: some of the most frequent indicators that your mantis doesn’t have long to live are loss of appetite, decreased mobility, and change of color. Though all of these indicators come with some caveats, as in some situations the reasons may not be so sinister.
And that’s what we’ll be talking about below.
How to tell if a praying mantis is dying?
Let’s get the big one out of the way first. As with most other animals, the behaviors of your praying mantis will change when it feels its time is coming to an end. The two most common indicators are its refusal to eat and decreased activity levels.
Most anecdotal claims from multiple insect-keepers tend to mention that before dying their praying mantis stopped eating and moving around. Another frequently mentioned indicator is sudden color change – brown spots suddenly occurring, for example – though these are mentioned in combination with the previous two indicators.
Praying mantis dying symptoms:
So, to sum it up, here are the main symptoms you should keep your eye out for:
- Refusal to eat: loss of appetite may indicate the mantis is sick or dying;
- Decreased activity levels: if your praying mantis is simply sitting in one spot, or hanging from the top of its container, and refuses to move for a long stretch of time, this also may indicate that it does not have long left to leave.
Color changes: if a praying mantis suddenly starts changing color, most notably develops brown spots, it may also be an indicator that it doesn’t have long left.
Of course, all of these symptoms should be taken with some grain of salt, since there are times when they are completely normal for a mantis – most notably when it’s molting.
We’ll talk more in detail about that below.
What causes praying mantis to die?
This is the hardest question to answer since, well, we don’t always know.
There are some mistakes an insect-keeper may make that will result in the mantis’ death – such as lack of food, especially when they’re small (a praying mantis has a rather large appetite), temperature and humidity (a praying mantis needs warm and humid environment, they do not survive in the cold), or use of unpurified water (tap water contains chlorine, which is harmful to the mantis).
Especially baby praying mantis need special care measures to prevent them from dying (or eating each other).
But even if you follow every mantis-keeping advice to a T and create the perfect environment for it to thrive, it may still die.
Even when the conditions of their habitat are right: optimal temperature, optimal humidity, the right type of water, sometimes your mantis dies. It can happen slowly, with all the symptoms present (lack of appetite, decreased mobility, abrupt color change), or it can happen overnight, seemingly with no precursors.
It may be because the mantis has already reached old age, or it may be something else – unfortunately, nature is like that.
How long does it take for a praying mantis to die?
Again, it’s impossible to say. Based on anecdotal evidence the process may last from just a few hours to a week.
Most insect-keepers who’ve kept a praying mantis as a pet observed that it lasts on average several days.
Is my praying mantis molting or dying?
Okay, so we’ve finally reached the big question: how to differentiate between a mantis molting and a mantis dying?
When a juvenile praying mantis starts molting it will lose its appetite and hang motionless upside-down, with its body contorting sometimes.
Sound familiar? Both of these are the main symptoms of a mantis dying we’ve talked about. Add in the possibility of the mantis changing the color in-between or after their molts, and you’ve got the trifecta.
So how do we know if our mantis is fine and just molting or dying?
Well, age is the main indicator here: a full-grown mantis doesn’t molt. If your pet has already been through this process once, then its lethargy and refusal to eat are, unfortunately, indicating that its time may be running out.
When it comes to juveniles, who are supposed to molt, remember that it’s a long and hard process: it may take your mantis 7 to 9 molts to reach adulthood, with 9 to 15 days in-between. Sometimes a mantis, unfortunately, doesn’t survive the molt, most frequently due to its inability to emerge from the old exoskeleton.
It’s particularly important to keep temperature and humidity levels optimal when your praying mantis is molting.
Is my praying mantis dying or just injured?
A praying mantis exhibiting lethargic behavior may also be due to a mechanical injury or dehydration.
When it comes to mechanical injuries, the one most often obtained by praying mantis is limb damage due to falls. You’ll likely notice deformities in legs or some bleeding if this is the case. To help the healing process, carefully coat the injured area with some nail hardener.
If it’s the latter then the praying mantis will likely also shed and shrivel. Try adjusting humidity levels in the habitat and gently spraying the mantis with water. If this doesn’t help, consult an exotic pets’ vet.
Do praying mantis play dead?
Yes, they do. Playing dead – or tonic immobility – is an adaptive behavior commonly exhibited by mammals, reptiles, and insects (among them by praying mantis) when encountering a threatening situation.
A male praying mantis, in particular, tends to “play dead” after mating to avoid being eaten by its partner (praying mantis do not eat dead prey).
Since the praying mantis displays tonic immobility in very specific circumstances, though, the chances that it’s playing dead in the habitat are quite small – unless it’s a male and has just mated, your mantis is very likely dead for real.
What should I do if my praying mantis is dying?
Unfortunately, if your praying mantis is dying due to old age, there’s nothing you can do.
Otherwise, carefully check the conditions of its habitat – optimizing temperature and humidity may help, especially if the mantis is just lethargic but doesn’t yet refuse to eat.
Most of the time though, you should just let the nature take its course.
What else is there to know about the praying mantis? Here’s a general overview!
Praying mantis are fascinating creatures. As peculiar as they look – after all, they get their name due to the way they hold their front legs: right under their heads, similar to a person putting them together in prayer, and as fearsome as they can be – praying mantis are excellent hunters with a vicious demeanor, unafraid to attack and take down a pray 3 times their size! – they still make wonderful pets.
The praying mantis greatly varies in size – it can grow anywhere between 2 and 6 inches. Like other insects, they have 6 legs, but unlike the majority, they only use the hind 4 to move around – the front 2 are reserved for hunting. Or, well, “praying” – holding motionless, waiting for potential prey to come their way. Some species, but not all, even grow wings and are able to fly.
Generally, despite having an aggressive nature when it comes to potential prey, a praying mantis will not attack a human. Mostly because when it doesn’t come to quelling its appetite – and praying mantis have quite a large appetite – a praying mantis isn’t interested in attacking anything.
Which is one of the reasons why it makes a good pet not only for adults with in-depth knowledge of insects but for kids that are only starting out their insect-keeping journey: as long as you teach them to keep their fingers tucked in, they don’t run a risk of the mantis deciding it’s a tasty insect – and thus a potential prey – and attacking.
A praying mantis is a beneficial insect – due to their excellent hunting skills and rather large appetites they can act as a sort of natural pest control, which is why some gardeners intentionally acquire and deposit them in their gardens.
This can be a risky move though, since praying mantis doesn’t differentiate between pests and beneficial insects alike (as well as small lizards and birds).
So unless you’re dealing with some sort of cricket infestation, it would be more prudent to simply keep a praying mantis in a sufficiently set up container and enjoy its company for what it is – a unique insect with behaviors that are almost as much fun to observe in captivity as in the wilderness.