Ghost Mantis Care

Phyllocrania paradoxa

Ghost mantis

Ghost mantids come in many colour varieties, fantastic photo by Frupus

The ghost mantis, Phyllocrania paradoxa is a fantastic praying mantis and a fantastic insect in general. Ghost mantids have a wide range throughout Africa, however they are slightly more concentrated in more central and southern regions. More specifically, ghost mantids are found in Angola, Cameroon, Cape Province, Congo basin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Transvaal, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

This small species which grows to no more than about 2inches and is characterized by its incredible camouflage giving the appearance of dead dried up leaves. Another characteristic physical trait of the ghost mantis is what is sometimes referred to by keepers as the headdress. This structure is simply an elongation of the head but it looks very cool next to the leaf like extensions of the prothorax (think of them as the shoulders and you aren’t too far off) and leafy projections from the joints of the legs. The colour of ghost mantids is highly variable and depends primarily upon genetics, however temperature, humidity and to a lesser degree diet have been said to effect the colour. Ghost mantids also change colour between moults, the changes can be rather startling when your light brown mantis sheds its skin and out pops a mantid which is nearly jet black (I’ve had that exact experience happen a few times). Colours vary between light leafy green, through to grey, and all of the brown spectrum up to very nearly black. Typically however ghost mantids are dark brown or dark leafy green; the former is the more common ecotype.

As with all praying mantids, the most reliable way of sexing ghost mantids (which can be done from any age providing you have a keen eye and perhaps a magnifying glass and steady hand if you are working with hatchlings) is to count the segments which make up the abdomen. If you look underneath the ghost mantis abdomen you will see it is split in to several segments, females have 6-7 of these whereas males have 8. This is hands down the most reliable way to sex praying mantids.

This species, like a great deal of praying mantids, shows fairly strong sexual dimorphism. Sexual dimorphism is where the males and females of a species are quite different in appearance. Females are larger and far bulkier than males. Males also tend to be quite narrow with almost transparent wings. Males also have extremely characteristic long antennae. In short, the two sexes are very different in appearance.

Ghost mantids are very slow growing and long lived as far as praying mantids go, a ghost mantis can live for up to 2 years and may take as long as 9 months to mature from a hatchling (however, both longevity and growth rates are highly dependent upon temperature and how often you feed).

Despite the fact I have kept some 25-30 praying mantid species over the years, ghosts remain a firm favourite. There is something extremely special about them which I can’t really describe, you really need to keep them for yourself to appreciate it. I also think they make a fantastic, interesting and beautiful first praying mantis great for beginners.

Ghost mantis

Fairly typical looking immature ghost mantis, image by Frupus

 

Ghost mantis housing

Housing for praying mantids is generally a simple affair, and ghost mantids are no different. As a general rule of thumb, the housing size should be no smaller than 3x the mantids size in height, and 2x the mantids size in length/width. Practically speaking however, that is a bare minimum and larger is always better. Personally, as this is a small species I like to keep mine in plastic half pint glasses (you can usually buy them in packs of 10 or 20 from your local pet shop) as nymphs, upgrading to a plastic pint glass as they age.

You should replace the lid of the pint glass with mesh or net curtains cut to size – these can be held in place with an elastic band. This will provide both adequate ventilation and a great place for the mantis to sit (ghost mantids spend much of their time sat upside down at the top of their enclosure irrespective of how many other climbing/perch opportunities you provide them with).

Ghost mantids are ambush predators and therefore don’t tend to move alot, in fact you will tend to find that your mantid will sit in the same spot without really moving for days at a time (ie generally at the top as previously mentioned). As such you don’t really need to provide too much else in the way of decor for the mantids needs, it will be quite happy sat at the top of its little jar. For your own interest however, and in the interests of creating a nice aesthetic set up you may wish to decorate the enclosure for your ghost with things like branches, bark, dead leaves, fake plants etc. Naturally if you choose to include alot of decorative decor you will need a larger home, something like a plastic faunarium available from any decent reptile shop.

When introducing other items in the enclosure it is extremely important not to over clutter it, your ghost mantis needs plenty of room to moult – obstructions can cause mismoulting which is often fatal. It is for this reason that many keepers – myself included- opt for an extremely simple enclosure comprising of an empty half pint glass with mesh on the top. No decor or anything else is included in the tank. If you ever come to breed ghost mantids in any kind of scale you will quickly realise that this minimalist approach has the highest success rate.

Substrate wise, there are plenty of options. Many keepers opt to use nothing (myself included – although I generally keep many of my mantids in a very simplistic way), although you may wish to use a substrate such as peat, coconut fibre or even organic compost. Use of such substrates will help maintain humidity for a little longer in the enclosure.

Ghost mantis

Ghost mantis sat on an owners finger, image by Ornamental Insects

As an interesting note, ghost mantids are one of the few species which is considered communal. Providing plenty of space, perches and branches are on offer (again following the rule of offering plenty of moulting space) and food is readily available then these can be reared more or less from hatchlings to adults communally. I have personally raised colonies of up to 18 individuals with only 1 loss to cannibalism over the period to maturity. Upon reaching adulthood you may wish to separate the males from the females for breeding purposes – the mature males have a habit of getting eaten when left together...

Temperature and humidity

Being from slightly warmer areas, ghost mantids do benefit from an external heat source however they can be raised at room temperature if you wish (supplementary heating in winter is a bit of a must however). Day time temperatures of 22-28c are ideal – remember growth rate is very closely linked to temperature so if you want your mantids to grow up quickly simply up the temperatures a little.

Humidity wise, again ghost mantids benefit from a reasonable humidity level, particularly when they are due to moult.  In the wild they are found in fairly dry forest areas, so a humidity level of approximately 60% is ideal. Practically speaking, this usually means a light misting every other day – misting will also provide an opportunity for your ghost mantids to drink. Remember that ventilation is very important, you do not want moist air to stagnate within the vivarium. This is yet another reason to make the top of the set up entirely out of mesh.  Good air flow is essential for a healthy mantid – particularly a healthy ghost mantid.

Feeding Ghost mantids

Ghost mantids are best fed on a diet of flying food. Whilst they will take terrestrial foods such as crickets, locusts and waxworms, they feed most eagerly, and show the best growth and fecundity (number of offspring) rates when fed a diet of flying food. For hatchlings and juveniles fruitflies are a perfect choice. Hatchlings are able to just about handle Drosophila hydei straight away (D.hydei are the larger of the two fruit fly species commonly cultivated in the hobby) and can be fed these throughout the first few months of their life.

They will reach a point when they are large enough to tackle greenbottle (often called blowfly) and then eventually bluebottle flies (bluebottles are much larger). The best way of getting a cheap, sustainable source of these is go to your local fishing tackle shop and purchase uncoloured maggots (I prefer to use ones which haven’t been dyed to make them a colour attractive to fish – I have no idea if it has any effect upon the mantid, I just choose to use uncoloured ones). Most fishing tackle shops stock both blowfly and bluebottle larva. If you ask the people in the shop they can probably tell you exactly what they are, alternatively they might just have smaller and larger maggots and intuition should tell you that the smaller maggots are blowfly, whereas the larger maggots are bluebottles.

Once you have your maggots, leave them out on the side for a week or so; or until they turn in to pupae. Then you want to leave them a little longer until you see your first fly in there. As soon as you’ve seen your first fly put the tub straight in the fridge. Doing this slows down the emergence rate of the flies providing you with a steady stream of flies for your mantids for anything up to a month or so. Seeing as maggots are usually only a couple of £/$ for half a pint, its an extremely economical way of feeding your pets.

How to feed flying food

There is a bit of an art to catching flies to feed for mantids, and that art generally centres around how quickly you can do it. When you take the flies out of the fridge they will be largely unconscious, showing little movement, within a matter of minutes they will have come round and be able to fly (imagine 50 flies in your bedroom, its happened to me on a few occasions). They key is to get them out of the fridge, open the tub by one corner, take out the flies you need, pop them in the mantid tubs and then close the fly tub as quickly as you can. One or two escapees from time to time is inevitable but you will get something of a knack for the process given time and you’ll lose very few flies in the process.

Working with drosophila is a different ball game, and luckily a far easier one! Once again they can be placed in the fridge and allowed to cool before handling them. The again is speed as fruit flies also have a habit of warming up quite quickly. Once again you should simply open one corner of the container and simply tap the required flies out in to the enclosure.

An alternative solution is to take a cup/glass and place it in the freezer for half an hour. Then you can simply pour your fruit flies in to the cup – the cold from the glass/cup will result in the flies quickly slowing down and losing consciousness. They will start to run up the cup but never reach the top, simply falling back down making them very very easy to work with.

Now we have covered working with the live food required to keep ghost mantids, we shall look at how often and how much you should feed.

Generally I like to feed my ghosts twice a week, for hatchlings and youngsters that’ll be a couple of fruit flies, for juveniles perhaps 5 fruit flies, and for adults perhaps one or two of the aforementioned larger fly species. You have probably noticed I am quite vague and thats because the metabolism of mantids is directly linked to temperature so its really difficult to be exact with how much you should feed. Looking at the abdomen of your ghost mantis is a great way of working out whether a feed is required, and how much to feed. Upon eating, the mantids abdomen expands quite obviously, becoming highly inflated in a particularly satiated (well fed) specimen. The abdomen then gradually shrinks over the following days as the food is digested and utilised. After a few weeks with your mantid(s) you will be able to take one look at the abdomen and work out both whether a feeding is required, and the amount of feeding which is required.

If you opt to keep your ghost mantids communally then you will want to ensure that food is more or less always on offer, this will ensure that they never resort to cannibalism.

Handling ghost mantids

Whilst ghost mantids generally don’t get much out of handling (in the way something like a cat, dog or hamster would – a genuine enjoyment from handling) they are a very docile species and can be handled providing you are gentle. Simply place your hand in front of the mantid and gently prod it from behind encouraging it to walk on your hand. From there it will probably sit quite happily or go for a wonder. Always be gentle with your praying mantis and be cautious of them falling.

Ghost mantis handling

Praying mantis sat on a finger, image by Ornamental Insects

 

Breeding ghost mantids

Breeding can be a rather dangerous time for praying mantids – particularly for males. Cannibalism is not inevitable when breeding ghost mantids, however it is certainly not uncommon and you should be wary.

Upon reaching maturity (easily characterised in ghost mantids because both sexes change dramatically, suddenly developing wings which alter their appearance lots) ghost mantids need to be left a little longer still before they are ready to reproduce. Females should be left atleast 4 weeks whereas males will often be ready to breed after 3 weeks. If you have a mature male and are waiting for your female ghost mantis to mature you can always keep the male a little cooler to slow down his maturity and keep him going longer (sadly, after maturing males only live a month or two whereas females can live as long as 12months).

Ghost mantisGhost mantis sexing

Ghost mantis female (left) having just finished laying an ootheca, note the stout body, image by. Ghost mantis male right, notice the far more slender body and the long antennae, image by .

 

Ensure the female is well fed before introducing the male (you don’t want her getting any funny ideas...), introduce the male behind the female for obvious reasons, usually a few inches behind her is good. He should hopefully notice the female quite quickly – you will see his long antennae point in her direction and he will take interest in her. With luck he will approach her and climb on top (sometimes they will leap/fly over landing upon the female which can be cool to watch). Mating will then hopefully take place.

You may wish to leave your male in with the female for a few days in an attempt to achieve multiple matings, but ensure that food is very readily available and accept the fact that you are putting your male in a certain degree of danger when doing this. I personally like to “shark tank” my males as it is often called because its a more reliable way of impregnating females. You can probably guess why it is sometimes called shark tanking!

Males can be mated with multiple females, provided they are given a day or two and a meal in between to regain their strength so to speak.

After mating the females will lay a series of egg cases known as ootheca. In ghost mantids the females can lay up to about 6-10 ootheca thoughout their lifetime. They generally lay their first approximately 6weeks after maturing however this is extremely temperature dependent.

It is important to offer your adult females apt places for them to lay their ootheca, placing things like branches and sticks will offer the perfect laying spot. I should mention that even unmated females will produce ootheca – they simply produce them as a matter of cause. Obviously a female which hasn’t been mated will not be producing fertile eggs and as such these egg cases should be discarded.

Once laid the ghost mantis ootheca should be removed from the parent enclosure for incubation. As with much of this, the hatch time is directly related to temperature, warmer temperatures mean the ootheca will hatch quicker whilst cooler temperatures will slow the process down. To incubate, you should place the egg case in an enclosure similar in size to which you would keep an adult – a pint pot or larger is ideal. Within this you should place a fibrous material (similar to what you often see in commercially bought fruit fly cultures) to offer plenty of perching spots for the hatchlings. Such ideal materials involve lots of small twigs, or dried grass you have collected (or the material in fruit fly cultures – I’m afraid the name currently escapes me!) If kept at room temperature or slightly above you can expect the egg case to hatch in 6-9 weeks producing 10-40 nymphs (generally the first ootheca laid produces a smaller number, with the number of nymphs per ootheca peaking and then declining again as the mantis ages).

The hatchlings can be raised communally and food should be introduced after about 3 days (they will refuse food for the first 2-3 days). Make sure food is plentiful to avoid/reduce the risk of cannibalism.

Good luck and enjoy!

Ghost mantis handling

Three young praying mantids (probably third instar or so), image by Ornamental Insects

 

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