In the manner of 6-year-old boys, Sam wants creepy-crawlies as pets. In the manner of parents of 6-year-old boys, it falls to me to take care of Sam’s creepy-crawlies. Currenty we are raising a half-dozen snails, a few dozen pillbugs and a 9″-inch Giant Black African Millipede.

And then there are the mantises.

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Mantises come, unhatched, in a nylon bag, like this, with a little egg sac, which can be seen in the lower-left corner of the bag. You hang the bag up in the sunlight and when it gets warm enough, dozens of the little critters, about half an inch long, come swarming out.

I know you wanted a close up of that egg sac, so here it is, with the little darlings still swarming out of it.

Do the tiny baby mantises want out of their nylon bag? You bet! They want to get out into our kitchen and eat tiny insects. If they are not allowed out of their nylon bag within a few hours, guess what happens? That’s right! They start eating each other!

So the next thing is to take the nylon bag full of baby mantises to the park and set them free so that they might help keep the park free of insects smaller than baby mantises.

There they go! Go eat insects smaller than yourselves, baby mantises! Help keep our park free of insects smaller than yourselves!

Naturally, when any baby insect is as adorable as a baby mantis, one doesn’t set all of them free. One keeps a dozen or so in a series of fishbowls, jars and critter-keepers on the kitchen counter.

Now then, what do baby mantises eat? How does one provide one’s new brood of critters with insects smaller than themselves to eat? What do baby mantises eat? Why, fruit flies, of course! And it turns out that local pet stores will sell you prepackaged, flightless fruit flies for a nominal, exorbitant fee!

Fruit flies! Yes, that’s right, one may, in the United States, purchase fruit flies to bring into your home to feed your baby mantises! More expensive than cat food!

You know what happens to fifteen tiny mantises in five containers on a kitchen counter? I’ll tell you! They become, eventually, five medium-sized mantises in five containers on a kitchen counter!

Imagine my surprise when I rushed in the door one day with a new batch of fruit flies and dumped them into a fish bowl with a few starving baby mantises. What happened? Feeding frenzy! Tiny little adorable baby mantis paws lunging out to grab tiny little fruit flies! Except the one little guy who accidentally lunged out and grabbed his brother’shead instead, then decided, well, as long as my brother’s head is in my clutches, why don’t I just eat him instead?

After a few weeks, natural selection has settled the hash of the weaker mantises, and now you have five strong, strapping, medium-sized mantises. These guys will still chase after fruit flies if they’re hungry, but it’s time for them to move on to bigger prey. Now you can get them baby crickets, which are much easier to come by at your local pet emporium and actually cheaper than fruit flies.

After just a couple of weeks of chomping on baby crickets, your adorable baby mantises will grow into monstrous, two-inch long Gigantor mantises. These guys are bad news indeed for baby crickets but still adorable and even cuddly to humans. They are curious and adventurous and will craw on your fingers and up your arm and they won’t even pretend to try to eat you — you’re too big.

Here’s one now! He’s waving his paws at you! He wants to play!

Pick me up, daddy! I want to play! What could be more adorable.

By the time they get to be two inches long, they’re ready to move on to medium-sized crickets. I found this out by chance one day when a medium-sized cricket who had, by stealth and wit, survived the mantis hunts for many months, got snatched up and devoured no problem, even though he was about half the size of the mantis himself.

Do you want to see photos of a mantis eating a cricket? I know you do.

The first photo shows the way our champ normally eats, hanging upside-down from a piece of grass or whatever’s handy. The second photo has been tipped on its side to prevent dizzyness. I actually saw this little guy nab this cricket off the ground and start in on it. Because the cricket is far too large to be eaten in a few bites, I had plenty of time to find my camera. The cricket, for those of a morbid bent, remained alive well after its head had been liquified and devoured, and even after it only had four legs to twitch spasmodically. Mmm, that’s good cricket!

Strangely, the Giant Black African Millipede, in spite of being enormous, is quite a bit easier to take care of. He spends all day burrowed into his burrow, curled up in a little Giant Black African Millipede ball, and then uncurls at night to wander over to his food bowl, where we leave lettuce or tomatoes or banana or mushrooms or grapes. Easy peasy! Why not take home a Giant Black African Millipede today?

In non-insect news, the esteemed [info]jacksonpublick has reported on our manly late-night LA carousing, which began with a burlesque show and ended with four aging hipsters talking shop in a parking lot at 1:30am (which, in LA, is very, very late).  I’ve hit the big time!

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21 Responses to “Mantises!”
  1. autodidactic says:

    Just as surely as there are cat people and dog people, there are bug people.

    Hooray for bugs, even though they creep me the hell out!

  2. medox says:

    I am truly struck right between “Awww” and “Ewww” and “Cool” right now. AWEWCOOL.

  3. eronanke says:

    In other weird pet news:
    Try rats. They’re clean and intelligent. You can teach them their own names and to poop in a litter box!

    • Todd says:

      My son has a rat in his classroom at school who is all that and a bag of chips. He’s clean, intelligent, affectionate, curious, loves to be picked up and held and petted, will actually come out of his little house when someone comes by to see who it is and if they have something for him.

      I think Ratatouille is going to make for a big market in pet rats. The nice thing is they’re not endangered like the clown fish in Finding Nemo, so we don’t have to worry about rat colonies being over-poached for the pet market.

      • ghostgecko says:

        Yup, 2nding that, I’ve had rats for years and they’re smarter than some dogs. You can even train them if you’re patient. Mine knew commands like ‘drop it!’ (if they started to carry off something valuable) and ‘go home’ when it was time to stop roaming the bedroom and gnawing on my books.

        I’ve had mantids, too – I’ve had just about everything, from Muscovie ducks to a savannah monitor, which is basically a junior league komodo dragon. I got a laugh out of this, and your introduction to mantid dining habits. They’ll also eat pinkie mice.

  4. and a 9″-inch Giant Black African Millipede.

    Aside from the size, that sounds like something you get from Roy Scheider, grind up and sniff to kick your addiction to bug powder.

  5. teamwak says:

    Thanks Todd. That is the best read I’ve had in ages. I laughed my head off. My brothers two boys 7 and 4 have six stick insects that are far less interesting than mantises. I think I will suggest mantises just out of spite, because as favourite uncle number 1 I have power over young minds.

    Although not the worlds biggest insect fan, I did meet this chap outside my hut when staying on an island in Zambia. What a cutie! 🙂
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  6. sheherazahde says:


    I’d love to see a picture of the millipede!

    “Except the one little guy who accidentally lunged out and grabbed his brother’s head instead, then decided, well, as long as my brother’s head is in my clutches, why don’t I just eat him instead?”

    I heard that female mantises are not really in the habit of eating male mantises during sex. It just just occasionally happens during captivity (like the cannibalism you observed).

    BTW: If you kept five and one of them got eaten, how come you still have five?

  7. randymonki says:

    “There have been MANTISES sighted in the area”

    “I sure hope we don’t see any-AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

  8. craigjclark says:

    Zorak is hip to that action.

  9. stainedecho says:

    the only time I’ve encountered a mantis was when I was around 7 or 8. There was one on one of my mom’s roses in her garden. I tried to get it to walk onto my palm, and it struck me with it’s er, mandibular arms. It stung like the dickens.

  10. Anonymous says:


    So enjoyed your story! Eddie Izzard narrated. It’s my story, really, almost every detail! Have 3 med. sized myself! Haven’t lived until you see a headless, half-eaten mantid run about a day after said mantid lost his head. I hear they copulate under those circumstances, as copulatory inhibition goes when the head goes. Charming! I do love them so. Your story is a gem. Thank you. C.