Giant African Mantis
Sphodromantis sp. image by lofaesofa
Giant African mantis is a term which is generally used to describe members of the Sphodromantis genus, however it can also include Hierodula spp. which can make matters a little confusing. This care sheet takes a look at the general care of Sphodromantis spp. as a group of mantids. The reason I have chosen not to split them up is that generally speaking the care requirements are very similar throughout the genus, with only subtle nuances between species. It is important however to point out that this care sheet should be treated as something of an introduction in to the care of Sphodromantis spp. as a whole, and that once you have decided upon which species you would like to keep you should do a little further research to find out their specific requirements.
That said, care is similar throughout the group, so this care sheet could be considered complete for some of the more common species such as Sphodromantis lineola (which incidentally, was the first ever praying mantis I kept – a fantastic species too by the way) and Sphodromantis virdis.
Giant African mantids, or Sphodromantis spp. as I prefer to call them are generally speaking large mantids, with species reaching some 8-9cm long in some cases. They are also probably amongst the most commonly kept praying mantids and make fantastic praying mantids for beginners and great additions to the collections of those with a little more experience. Due to their large size and aggressive feeding nature (often chasing down their prey items rather than sitting waiting for them to approach like ghost mantids) they make great little pets, they are also quite handleable provided you are gentle.
Appearance wise, giant African mantids are very much a “typical” praying mantis – when you ask somebody to picture a praying mantis in their mind they will most likely picture something similar in appearance to Sphodromantis spp. – a large green mantis with a fairly typical mantis body plan. Sphodromantis in fact come in a variety of colours, ranging from deep browns through to creams, and then a whole bunch of shades of green. Their forearms, which are used to capture prey, often display some bright colouration which can be flashed by the mantids as a warning when they feel under threat.
Below is a selection of the Sphodromantis which have been classified. As with many genuses of this nature, identification and classification work is often in the hands of enthusiasts rather than scientists and therefore the names do change from time to time, and no list can ever really be truly complete. There are also a number of other species which surface regularly in the hobby such as Sphodromantis sp. ‘Congo’ – this form of identification is used when true identify beyond the genus cannot be determined so a marker of the locality of the mantis is simply used instead. See below for the list, Sphodromantis
- Sphodromantis abessinica – found in Ethiopa and Somalia
- Sphodromantis aethiopica - found in Ethiopia, sometimes refered to as the Ethiopian mantis
- Sphodromantis annobonensis - found in Guinea and on the Equatorial Guinea island of Annobón Province. Quite rare in the hobby
- Sphodromantis aurea– found in Liberia and Ghana – formally known as Alalomantis coxalis this is commonly found in the hobby, sometimes called the congo mantis and is generally a slightly lighter green colour than other Sphodromantis.
- Sphodromantis baccettii – found throughout Kenya and Somalia, possesses blue-black spots on the forearms as a threat display.
- Sphodromantis balachowskyi – Found in various areas in African [needs revision]
- Sphodromantis biocellata - found in Angola, Cameroon, and Central African Republic. Rarely if ever seen in the hobby.
- Sphodromantis centralis– commonly seen in the hobby, this species is found in certain areas of central Africa [needs revision]
- Sphodromantis citernii – Found throughout Ethiopia and Somalia
- Sphodromantis congica – often called the congo manis (not to be confused with S. aurea) this is found in Angola, Nigeria, and the Congo River region. This may well be the true identity of the Sphodromantis sp. ‘Congo’ which frequents the hobby (however with so many found in that region it is difficult to say)
- Sphodromantis conspicua -found thoughtout Burkina Faso and Senegal.
- Sphodromantis elegans – this mantis has a fairly expansive range being recorded in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and the Congo River region.
- Sphodromantis elongata – found around Zambia and the region of the Congo River.
- Sphodromantis fenestrata – has a range throughout Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Tanzania.
- Sphodromantis gastrica – found in Kenya and Somalia
- Sphodromantis gestri – originally thought to be in the Hierodula genus this mantis was recently reclassified. It has a fairly expansive range and has been found in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and East Africa.
- Sphodromantis giubana – Found only in Somalia
- Sphodromantis gracilicollis – there is little information on this mantis other than that it is found in Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal, and Central African Republic.
- Sphodromantis gracilis – found in the Transvaal
- Sphodromantis hyalina – again little is known about this species beyond the fact it has been recorded throughout Gabon, Central African Republic and the Congo River region.
- Sphodromantis kersteni - found in Kenya, Tanzania, and Sudan.
- Sphodromantis lagrecai - found in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
- Sphodromantis lineola – amongst the most commonly kept Sphodromantis in the pet trade, these are a fantastic species and were the authors first mantis. Readily available and easy to keep.
- Sphodromantis obscura – recorded in Tanzania.
- Sphodromantis pachinota – another species which is found in Ethiopia and Sudan
- Sphodromantis pardii – found in Somalia.
- Sphodromantis pavonina - found thoughout Angola, Cameroon, and the Congo River region.
- Sphodromantis pupillata – little information is available on this species [needs revision]
- Sphodromantis quinquecallosa - little information is available on this species [needs revision]
- Sphodromantis royi - Named after its finder, this mantis is sometimes called Roy’s mantis and can be found throughout Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauretania, Niger, and Senegal.
- Sphodromantis rubrostigma – not seen too often in captivity (or rather, it may crop up in captivity from time to time but never under this name – due to its rarity when it is found in captivity it may called Sphodromantis sp. ‘Kenya’ – however there are many Kenyan species of Sphrodomantis and hobbyists usually have little inclination/the resources available to them to properly so tread carefully before applying a true species name to it)
- Sphodromantis rudolfae – found in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Zanzibar.
- Sphodromantis splendida – little information available online [needs revision]
- Sphodromantis tenuidentata – found in certain regions of Tanzania
- Sphodromantis transcaucasica – little information available [needs revision]
- Sphodromantis viridis – Another very commonly kept species in the hobby, Sphodromantis virdis has a variety of common names including simply the Giant African Mantis, Bush Mantis and the Giant Green Mantis. N ative to West Africa south of the Sahara desert; it can also be found as an introduced species in areas outside its original range including Israel and Spain where it can be something of a pest.
Sphodromantis sp. image by lofaesofa
As you can see, there are a large variety of Sphodromantis species with overlapping ranges. This is a fairly tricky genus to identify and differentiate due to many species sharing ranges, niches and being quite similar in appearance.
It is for this reason that it is the authors opinion that there may perhaps be something of a problem in captivity. I think when a species is collected from a certain area where one of the more “commonly kept” species (lineola, virdis, etc) is also found collectors simply label them as one of the more common species despite the fact they may lack the resources to properly identify them. When the collectors do this and pass the information on to the exporters, this false information gradually pervades its way in to the hobby.
I suspect the captive population (ie the sum total of all of the Sphodromantis kept in captivity) actually contains a far larger array of species than we currently give it credit for. Sphodromantis are notoriously difficult to identify, and when you add in the compounding effect of the inevitable hybridization which occurs when species are misidentified you end up with something of a mess in captivity.
For such a commonly kept genus, the true taxonomy of Sphodromantis is arguably poorly understood, and perhaps revisions are required.
Now that we have covered a little bit about the genus, we will look at their care in captivity...
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