DIY Complete mantid habitat construction tutorial guide


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Oct 27, 2014
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This is a rather large DIY (do it yourself - homemade) tutorial guide on building habitats, homes, cages, tanks, or whatever you prefer to call the mantids captive space.

I had to break this up into several smaller topics due to forum limitations that are set in place (no anchor tags, limited photos per post, etc.). As such I intend for this introduction topic to be the index that links the rest of the topic sections together. I will post them one after another, and got it done with no interrupts thankfully, so you can just follow along as well.

It was a lot of working trying to get this on the forum itself in a linkable format (index), it is also searchable through the forum search too which will be handy. All things considered though I think I'll just post a link next time to a PDF file of my guide hosted on another website.

I tried to cover as many topics/sections regarding this DIY tutorial so some areas are not as involved as I would like, but this is not a book - so I could not include all my tricks, techniques, and more advanced projects. Perhaps if I find enough time and get enough requests to write such a thing I will in the future (as it is, this has taken many long hours of experience/construction/photographing/editing/writing to bring it to you in this form).

The topic/sections try to follow my typical construction build order so if you follow along you can build your new mantid home in no time. Or perhaps take what you learn and apply it to your feeder insect cultures, your own projects, and such as well. I will not focus on any of those this time, as that is another guide itself.

Please be aware most of the following is what I learned after making many habitats from my eighteen mantid ooth hatches (and lots of pets through their instar stages too), and tricks I learned from others here on the forum. I give credit where possible, but to be honest some things were likely re-invented as there are only so many ways to do the same task.

Other things are so called "common knowledge" so giving credit for such things to the original unknown/anonymous creators is impossible. Although it is likely much of that is from the keepers that have been in the hobby for a long time now, and share their knowledge with everyone. In that regard many thanks to agent A, happy1892, hibiscusmile, Orin, Peter Clausen, Precarious, Rick, yen_saw, and so many others. I know much of it has came from Orin and his books as I find quotes from those in other books and on the forum too.

Special thanks to dmina, Jay, LAME, MantidBro, soundspawn, Tammy Wolfe, those already listed above, and several others for helping me with the hobby on the forum and in private messages. I know Peter Clausen has my my eternal gratitude for all his work and effort in running this forum, because without it my first rescued pet Susanna would not have survived without me being able to communicate with the wonderful people here and the help they all provided.

The typical disclaimer applies - The information is for general guidance only and while every effort is made to ensure that it is correct, it should not be relied upon as accurate. Use of the information contained within this guide is at your own risk. The author of this guide will not accept any liability for any loss, damage, injury or negligence direct or indirect from use of the information contained within this guide.

With that all said, lets get on with the construction!


[*]*- Hot glue basics -*

[*]*- Proper ventilation -*

[*]*- Feeding access options -*

[*]*- Decoration -*

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1. *- Choosing a suitable mantid container -*

1.1 - Finding a usable container

Ideally the container material for your mantid is made of plastic, as it allows the mantid to climb easily, and is safer for you too. There are a few standard options such as plastic drinking cups, deli cups, and plastic storage or organizing containers. Another option is a net (all mesh) container, and is often debated if it really helps the mantid, and is a more specialized item so I am skipping it here.

Other "found" containers made of plastic once cleaned will work great as well, especially those with a tight fitting lid or a screw-on lid. Many things can be repurposed for this task quite effectively.

Containers may work as well without a lid, but you will have to create a lid for them. For such a container using two of them with one container cut around the top 1" (2.5cm) to 2" (5cm), this cut container top acts as the lid (and rests inside the 2nd container). This lid has ventilation material (mesh) glued on it and is held in place by friction/gravity. A example is demonstrated by member Bug Trader with his Nymph Cups - and is what I use for all my nymphs.

Some typical "found" containers include food storage containers (mayonnaise jars, cheeseball containers, peanut butter, plastic pickle jars/barrels, and so many others - and some can be small to quite large), other containers such as (vegetable oil jugs, candy containers/jars, plastic file folder containers, acrylic fish tanks (smaller 2 or 3 gallon and Betta tanks) and water jugs). Once you start looking for such a container you may find you have something already. If not a look at a store will surprise you in the sheer amount of options.

In your search you may discover that some containers are opaque or semi-transparent. While these will work, they are not recommended as they will isolate your mantid, and leave you with few viewing options. You can, however, add in mesh side panels to prevent those problems and turn it into a usable container.

If you keep a large population of mantids though, buying a standard container is usually the best (plastic drinking cups, deli cups, and plastic storage or organizing containers). As the option is cheaper for multiple containers, you can streamline construction, and get a set design/look for your habitats.


* I made printable labels - simply print it, cut them out, and tape to your habitats. It is a PDF file and will print 16 labels per page - the file is hosted on my Google drive as mantid-id-tags.pdf. The file provides a easy template for you to write your data on, and make it a bit better looking than masking tape.

On the containers it is a good idea to place a piece of masking tape for record keeping. On the masking tape listing the mantids name, species, date received/hatched, instar stage (marked in slashes in groups of five to track their growth), sex male/female, and finally when they reach adulthood.

Of course you can add more or less details if you prefer.

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1.2 - Size considerations

Depending on the current size of your mantid, and when it is an adult, will help you on deciding on a container. If space for your mantid is a concern, you can house the mantid in a habitat large enough for it's current needs plus it's next molt size, to ensure it has plenty of room. Then, however, you will have to make a new larger habitat for it when it molts. The easiest option for you is to build it once for the size of the adult mantid species.

The general rule for housing your mantid is you will want a container to be two to three times the length, width, and height of your mantid. This will give the mantid plenty of room to molt as it grows, and room once it is fully grown.

So for example you have a Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina) adult of 2" (5cm) long you will need a container that is at the least 4" (10cm) wide and 4" (10cm) long and 4" (10cm) high (on the inside of the habitat, not counting the lid or substrate height). With a idea size container being 6" (15cm) x 6" (15cm) x 6" (15cm).

Or if you have a small Japanese boxer mantid (Acromantis japonica) adult of 1" (2.5cm) the minimal size is 2" (5cm) x 2" (5cm) x 2" (5cm) - with the idea size of 3" (7.5cm) x 3" (7.5cm) x 3" (7.5cm).

If however you have a larger Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) adult of 4" (10cm) in size you will need a container that is at least 8" (20cm) x 8" (20cm) x 8" (20cm) - with the idea size of 12" (30.5cm) x 12" (30.5cm) x 12" (30.5cm).
Besides the container being too small and causing problems (restricted movement, molting deaths, etc.), one that is too large will cause problems with feeding. If the container is too large the feeder insects will most likely be unseen, and have a higher chance to hide in the substrate. So your mantid can be injured by the feeders during molting, or simply starve to death in large containers. The solution for a large/huge container is to put your mantid into a smaller container to eat at feeding times.

Lastly with adult mantids you can often get away with a container smaller than the recommended size as it will not molt, so you will not have those problems; however, if it is a female it will need a larger habitat to lay her ooths and they like room to find just the right spot to lay them. So keep this in mind if you plan on this option.

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2. *- Hot glue basics -*

2.1 - Basic setup


Glue guns

Regarding glue gun prices - I have owned glue guns ranging in price from $1 to about $30 each, and there is usually little difference, besides their size. Some have fancy options such as being cordless, larger liquid glue reservoirs, and such - but most are not worth the hassle or price (decide for yourself).

I would recommend a standard glue gun in the $5 to $10 price range as they typically preform the same as much higher priced ones. When it is time to replace it, the price is more affordable in what you spent and will spend to replace.

Typically glue guns will fail/break in three places - the nozzle (ensure it has a metal tip, plastic is worthless) and will leak around it, the trigger often gets glue inside the area itself from stress making the trigger stick, and the usual rubber/plastic loop that holds the glue sticks will quit feeding them into the gun properly. I mention this because with some simple maintenance and care you can keep your glue gun working (or if it does quit working and you are good at rigging things, can repair it too - if not at least enough to finish your project).

There are two types of hot glue guns, high temp and low temp guns. These refer to how hot the liquid glue gets, and affects the bond strength and their intended usage.

Low temp glue guns will allow you to glue thin materials without melting or warping them like the high temp guns will; however, the low temp guns tend to give a weaker bond strength even with the same glue sticks (as most sticks are both low and high temp). Low temp guns also typically only melt the glue in small amounts, and you will find yourself waiting for the gun to melt more glue before you can continue with your project quite often.

High temp guns usually allow faster/more usage of hot glue before it is unable to keep up (as it has to melt the glue as it is used). It also provides a stronger glue bond strength as the hot glue has more time to spread into the material pores and around the gluing area.

From my experience a high temp glue gun is by far more commonly used, and the recommend buy/choice. Especially as you can use the water trick (described in the 2.2 Gluing tricks section below) that will allow you to glue thin materials without a problem.

Glue sticks

Besides the glue gun itself you will need glue sticks too. Most sticks work in both high temp and low temp guns; however, there are some specialized sticks that are only for either high or low temp guns (although they are getting more difficult to find).

All sticks also come in two diameter sizes most commonly, a mini glue stick and a larger "standard" size (which the mini is actually the standard, especially in sales and use anymore). A mini glue stick is 5/16" (7.9375mm) or 1/4" (6.3500mm) in diameter, and typically 4" (10cm) long. The "standard" glue sticks are 7/16" (11.1125mm) or 1/2" (12.7000mm) in diameter, and are either 4" (10cm) or 10" (25.4cm) long. If you want to learn more about them, you can read more here.

The main thing is to ensure you buy the correct size glue stick (the diameter) for your glue gun; otherwise, it will not work with your gun at all. Some do come in different lengths which are fine, but often the longer lengths come at a much higher cost for less glue per package. Also buy the typical clear sticks for best results (avoid the glitter sticks, colored sticks, and such as they seem to forever affect any clear glue in the glue gun afterwards).

For projects that require truly glass clear hot glue, you can buy such glue sticks from a specialty store. I've found taxidermy suppliers are some of the best sources and usually at a reasonable cost (although it is much more than standard hot glue).

Glue gun stand

Some glue guns come with a built-in stand, usually collapsible, and they work if you are on a budget. The built-in ones though will often fold while laying the hot gun down on work surfaces, or sit uneven and often fall over.

A glue stand is a really great accessory that will make you wonder why you used a glue gun without it. I use one that is 100% metal and manufactured by SureBonder. I've since been unable to find them after I bought one, as I would like to have one for each work area.

A solution is to make your own stand. To make one simply buy some plumbers strap (pipe support strap - comes in a roll) at hardware stores. Bend a partially closed loop with the strap, this will fit around your glue gun. Take a small bolt and secure it to another piece of strap to act as the brace, and screw that into a small piece of wood as your base. See my image above of my glue gun stand for the basic design.

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2.2 - Gluing tricks


One trick to settle the high and low temp glue gun debate is to use cool/cold water. If you are using a high temp gun on thin plastic, you can dip your fingers in water and touch the glue to dry it quickly to prevent thin materials from melting or warping.

The water trick also works to smooth out glue seams. Be careful though as the water will quickly evaporate from your fingers, so you will have to re-dip your fingers to continue using the trick often; otherwise, your fingers will get very hot and likely get a burn blister. I know as I've had more than my share of those blisters.

In that regard be sure to wet your entire finger, to prevent any dry part of your finger from touching the liquid glue. A small plastic tub, measuring cup, or drinking glass makes a perfect container to hold water to dip your fingers into.

Slow and steady

For the best glue bead lines, squeeze your glue gun trigger using a slow and even pressure. For example in the image below look at the 3rd glue line I made. It has a much nicer even look to it.

Although depending on your project you may need to spread out a lot of glue quickly, so you have to work quickly before the glue begins to dry (and speed will be an issue).



If an area of glue you made in a visible area looks rough/bad you can fix it. One method is to use the tip/nozzle of your glue gun and remelt the glue in the area and smear it (water trick), and adding glue too if needed, to fix the problem area.

Sometimes remelting the glue is not a option so a alternative is to trim the glue. See the above photo, and look at the 2nd glue line, in the first image.

The trick is to find the thinnest part that can be removed, passing through the glue the entire length, to give it a clean line. In my photo, 2nd image, I highlighted the idea line in red. Using a razor or hobby knife cut through the glue only (not the material beneath). Then pry up the cut glue - more cutting may be needed to free the glue. The result is a much nicer glue bead, see image 3 above.


Also almost always when hot gluing you will have many fine strings of glue all over the project you are working on. The easiest option is to let the strings dry; otherwise they will continue to make strings, or will smear onto your project. Once dry simply pull off all the glue strings, sometimes rubbing is required (like over mesh materials).

In the case of mantids, the glue strings will always wind up on your mantid and is more of a annoyance than a problem. They can be removed very carefully if this happens to your mantid though using your hand or tweezers.

Painting glue

To give your project a more professional look you can hide the hot glue with paint. The best paint I found is hobby Acrylic paint that has a sealer mixed in. Just brush it on and let it dry, a 2nd coat is recommended for best coverage.

Do not buy cheap craft paint as it does not have a sealer and the paint will easily scratch/flake off of the glue. If this is your only option, use a polyurethane sealer over the paint to protect it, although it will require many hours of dry time (and has a high odor).

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3. *- Proper ventilation -*

3.1 - Common materials


** Material in my photo above is to size/scale to each other for reference, and along the bottom, the samples are overlaid on a blue colored text (brush package) to show the transparency/coloration of the material. One thing is the coffee filter paper is only transparent at all if something is pressed against it.

I've tried many various materials to cover ventilation and openings in containers, and most have a purpose depending on their intended use (or inhabitants).

I keep a supply of seven materials on hand for my mantids needs and their feeders. The ones I have and use are as shown - organza fabric, shelf liner material, standard fiberglass/plastic/poly window screen mesh, aluminum window/storm door screen mesh, a black colored organza fabric sold as "wired ribbon", a fine tulle fabric, and standard paper coffee filters.

Finding the material is rather easy, but they are scattered around any store. The fiberglass/plastic/poly screen mesh and aluminum screen mesh both come in rolls in hardware departments. Shelf liner is in the kitchen department, often around contact paper. Coffee filters are of course by the coffee in grocery stores. The rest are purchased in fabric departments or stores, and may require some searching to find the right mesh opening size.

For best results different materials can be glued on top of each other in layers. An example is hot gluing aluminum mesh to make the ventilation bite proof for mantids and adult feeders. Then on top of that, organza fabric to keep feeder nymphs in their container.

I typically keep the layers to a maximum of three, as it really starts to get thick, and still allows enough light into the container (more layers will usually block the majority of the light).

You can also buy micron/micro/fine which is steel or aluminum mesh as well, bit it tends be much more expensive and sold in 100' (30.48m) rolls online. When compared to typical aluminum mesh price at $8 a roll - the micro mesh runs about $25-$30 for the same length (but once again any places I found have minimum orders and lengths, usually around $75 plus shipping). So I layer my materials to get about the same results for about $12 a roll.

If you do find a good source of micro mesh let me know and I'll update this. By the way it comes in lots of sizes, typically listed as wires per inch. My recently bought flightless fruit flies (Melanogaster) container from a pet store had micro steel mesh in the lid, and I counted the wires - which was 140 wire per inch. So I would recommend you purchase that size or great per inch to ensure best results.

I have ranked the materials from the finest material to the largest mesh material (in mesh opening size), and given a list of typical uses of the material.

  • Standard paper coffee filters - Fruit fly mesh, and feeders or insects that prefer low/indirect light
  • Organza fabric - Fruit fly mesh and to prevent pest/invaders
  • A organza fabric sold as "wired ribbon" - Fruit fly mesh and to prevent pest/invaders
  • Shelf liner material - Recommend by many members as the best gripping material for mantids, especially safe on their feet
  • Standard plastic/poly window screen mesh - Gripping surface for mantids
  • Aluminum window/storm door screen mesh - Bite proof and used as a secure mesh for feeders and mantids - although can cause injury to mantids feet (tarsus).
  • Fine tulle fabric - As it is larger mesh and very thin material it makes a good netting for covering cricket soil breeding containers (allows crickets to lay eggs in the dirt, but keeps them from digging in the dirt)


Here are the common tools used to create mantid habitats, and to cut the ventilation material. Some may not be necessary depending on your preferences.

In the photo above I have a pair of tin snips, a good pair of scissors, a cheap pair of scissors, a hobby knife, and a razor blade. The tin snips are for cutting aluminum metal mesh, and not much else. I find the tin snips unnecessary, but list them for you to decide if you prefer to use them.

For cutting aluminum mesh I find a decent pair of cheap scissors work the best. Once they are used to cut the aluminum, however, they will no longer be of use to cut anything else (they will dull quickly). As such though I have used the same pair of scissors for my habitat building with aluminum, and have almost used up the entire aluminum mesh roll now.

A good pair of scissors will allow you to cut the various mesh/ventilation materials, sometimes the containers themselves, and other things during construction.

To cut feeding holes, removing the lid material, and other things during construction - a hobby knife is the best tool to make the cuts. Also for smaller and tight turns I find a razor blade held in my fingers provides the best results; however, be careful not to injure yourself. If nothing else blood will stain the fabric. :tt2:

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3.2 - Lid ventilation

This is likely the most important aspect of your mantid habitat. If done incorrectly the mantid can escape, can be harmed by pests and invaders, or even unable to breathe. That said do not worry too much, just keep in mind this area is a main (or even only) access for anything in and out of the mantids habitat.

Also note that the vast majority of mantids will prefer to perch on the lid area most of the time, so they need a good mesh material.

For the majority of ventilation uses a fine mesh such as the organza fabric is my most used. It provides great support for many mantids, and will keep fruit fly feeders and such trapped inside for small mantid nymphs.

Larger species such as Chinese mantids (Tenodera sinensis) I upgrade the material to aluminum mesh, as they have great biting strength and is one of the few materials that is escape proof; however, the aluminum mesh can trap their delicate feet and can cause broken tarsus' (their feet). I have not had any problems using it yet (knock on wood), but seems to be a common problem that arises on the forum occasionally.

Cut aluminum mesh will have sharp edges and usually broken strands - so be sure to remove or cover them completely with hot glue to prevent your mantid from getting injured or stabbed by them. Check your work by rubbing your fingers over the mesh edges to ensure they are safe.

To prevent injury to mantids a safer material such as shelf liner, can be used to cover the aluminum mesh on the inside, and is a effective layer. Shelf liner material though blocks a lot of light so keep this in mind.

If you have a mantid that requires higher humidity levels you can make a smaller ventilation opening. Then on the inside run mesh material across the entire lid for gripping material for your mantid.

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3.3 - Attaching method 1 & 2 (Tacking and Aluminum mesh)

Method 1 - Tacking

This is my least favorite method of hot gluing mesh material for lids; however, it is the fastest by far. It is my least favorite as the material is often not as stretched as it can be, making sagging or wrinkled material, and usually comes out looking a bit rough.

I tend to use this method when I am forced to make a lot of nymph cups up fast for a early hatching ooth.


Tacking Part 1

With the lid still on the container you want to remove the majority of the middle section of the lid, leaving just enough of the lid plastic beyond the sealing area to glue down your ventilation material.

For a guide you can use a marker and trace a circle around the lid to follow while cutting - or using a drawing compass set in the middle and mark a area as well.

I found the quickest and easiest way is to hold the razor like a pencil, then rest my outer finger against the lid (see the arrow in the photo above). Then I simply drag my fingers around the rim of the lid (keeping pressure on the finger), and my finger acts like a ruler to keep the razor in place. As you can see in the photo it will provide a nice clean cut.

Depending on the lid plastic material though you may have to cut into the lid slowly using several passes to prevent any cracking, and for thick plastic material.


Tacking Part 2

With the ventilation hole cut, stretch a piece of ventilation mesh over the hole (ensuring it is large enough to cover the opening). Leave the lid on the container during this step for best results, to avoid wrapping the lid.

Then using your hot glue gun apply small dots of glue around the edge of the opening (first arrow in the photo above). I find using the water trick on my fingers helps speed up the process and allows me to stretch the mesh material some for better results. Space the glue dots out about 1" (2.5cm) between dots.

With the mesh tacked all the way around the lid, cut off the excess ventilation material with your scissors. Then finally run a complete bead of hot glue around the edge of the cut material (2nd arrow above) to finish the lid.

For added strength flip over the lid and hot glue the mesh and lid with a bead of glue. See Attaching method 3 - Step 5 below for full instructions.

Method 2 - Aluminum mesh

As the method title suggests this is the best method of hot gluing aluminum screen mesh material. It can be used for other materials too, but it will however not provide good results with those (as the fabric can stretch too much and will not fit properly during gluing).

This technique provides the cleanest results for aluminum mesh, as it is cut before major gluing is done. If you try to cut it after gluing you will be left with a much wider overlap/sealing area and it can cause the mesh to pull off from the lid during cutting. I know when I try to cut the mesh entirely then glue it to the lid it never fits right, but this way it is a custom fit.

When cutting aluminum it will create tiny scrap pieces that are like little needles, and can bury themselves in your skin. Be careful and clean the work area when your done cutting. Also you will likely have some strands of mesh that pull free like a loose stitch on clothing - cut those flush with scissors to prevent damaging your mesh.

Cut aluminum mesh will have sharp edges and usually broken strands - so be sure to remove or cover them completely with hot glue to prevent your mantid from getting injured or stabbed by them. Check your work by rubbing your fingers over the mesh edges to ensure they are safe.

In the photos I used a container I had handy, it will be a good container for transporting caught/collected insects - but is not suitable for a mantid (unless you do side mesh for visibility).


Aluminum mesh Part 1

Remove the lid material for the ventilation opening using a hobby knife or razor blade. To prevent repeating myself, here are the instructions I gave for this above...

With the lid still on the container you want to remove the majority of the middle section of the lid, leaving just enough of the lid plastic beyond the sealing area to glue down your ventilation material.

For a guide you can use a marker and trace a circle around the lid to follow while cutting - or using a drawing compass set in the middle and mark a area as well.

I found the quickest and easiest way is to hold the razor like a pencil, then rest my outer finger against the lid (see the arrow in the photo above). Then I simply drag my fingers around the rim of the lid (keeping pressure on the finger), and my finger acts like a ruler to keep the razor in place. As you can see in the photo it will provide a nice clean cut.

Depending on the lid plastic material though you may have to cut into the lid slowly using several passes to prevent any cracking, and for thick plastic material.

Aluminum mesh Part 2

With the ventilation opening cut, roll out the aluminum mesh and ensure it covers the entire opening. With your hot glue gun tack down one edge of the mesh (see the first arrow in the photo above). Leave the lid on the container during these steps for best results, to avoid wrapping the lid.

With the mesh tacked to the lid I use one hand to hold the mesh/container, and with my other begin cutting the mesh leaving a 1/2" (1.3cm) overlap of the mesh all the way around the container lid opening (curved arrow image in the photo above).


Aluminum mesh Part 3

In the photo above, in the first image, the mesh is cut completely and as typical it will have a slight curl to it.

Flatten the mesh to the lid evenly (ensuring it covers the entire opening) then hold it in place with one hand. Then using your hot glue gun, glue the mesh to the lid using plenty of glue. Using the water trick on your fingers will help in small areas to keep the mesh flat while gluing.

If the mesh pulls free you will need to reheat the glue with the gun nozzle/tip, flatten the mesh, and apply more hot glue as needed.

For added strength flip over the lid and hot glue the mesh and lid with a bead of glue. See Attaching method 3 - Step 5 below for full instructions.

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3.4 - Attaching method 3 (Advanced)

The final method of attaching ventilation material works best for any material that isn't aluminum, as it is pulled/stretched giving it a nice fit. This is especially true of the fabric materials as it will remove most wrinkles and sags from the fabric.


Method 3 Step 1

Remove the lid material for the ventilation opening using a hobby knife or razor blade. To prevent repeating myself, here are the instructions I gave for this above...

With the lid still on the container you want to remove the majority of the middle section of the lid, leaving just enough of the lid plastic beyond the sealing area to glue down your ventilation material.

For a guide you can use a marker and trace a circle around the lid to follow while cutting - or using a drawing compass set in the middle and mark a area as well.

I found the quickest and easiest way is to hold the razor like a pencil, then rest my outer finger against the lid (see the arrow in the photo above). Then I simply drag my fingers around the rim of the lid (keeping pressure on the finger), and my finger acts like a ruler to keep the razor in place. As you can see in the photo it will provide a nice clean cut.

Depending on the lid plastic material though you may have to cut into the lid slowly using several passes to prevent any cracking, and for thick plastic material.


Method 3 Step 2

With the ventilation opening cut into the lid, lay your mesh material over the opening to ensure it covers the opening completely. Leave the lid on the container during these steps for best results, to avoid wrapping the lid.

On one side apply hot glue dots to tack it into place. Using the water trick on your fingers will help set the glue quicker. See the arrow in the photo above.


Method 3 Step 3

With the mesh material glued on one area, you can begin to stretch the mesh by using your hand or thumb. Pull it taut, see the arrow in the photo above in the first image. This is the method of stretching the mesh as you glue it to give the best look and fit possible. Make sure the lid you are working on is firmly attached to your container; otherwise, the stretching may warp your lid and it will no longer fit properly.

Stretching the fabric you can tack (hot glue dots) the area across from the original tacked part (as seen in the double arrow above). If you continue tacking the fabric though you will likely introduce some wrinkles in the material during the final step.

For me personally, I tack only one area. Then I continue stretching the mesh and glue a continual bead of hot glue around the ventilation opening. I do this slowly so the glue can bond as I progress and it provides the most wrinkle free mesh. It is though nearly impossible to show that in photos while using a camera to take pictures too, so I demonstrate the multiple tack areas.

I must admit the multiple tack areas was nice and tight as well but had some wrinkles, as the mesh had puckered areas from tacking.


Method 3 Step 4

Depending on your comfort level you may tack the four areas of the lid (as in the photo above in the first image). Stretch the fabric before tacking with hot glue. Once you are done with the basic tacking it is time for the glue bead to seal and bond the mesh material to the lid.

Stretch the mesh around your hot glue area (between the tacking) and begin squeezing out a solid bead of hot glue. Continue the solid bead (glue line) around the entire lid, stretching the mesh as you go.

Finally cut off the excess mesh material (image two in the photo). Now if you want to make it more secure and to cover any extra mesh, run a final bead of glue around the outer edge.


Method 3 Step 5

This extra step provides extra protection and strength - and is really only necessary for feeder cultures.

Turn over the completed lid. Next apply a bead of hot glue around the rim of the ventilation opening, overlapping the glue on the lid and mesh material. This will seal up any small openings between the ventilation mesh and the lid, and keep feeders from getting stuck under it.

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3.5 - Avoiding pests/invaders

As the ventilation is access for pests and invaders to enter your mantid habitat, it is a topic that should be discussed.

There are four basic types of pests that can enter your mantid home, causing problems ranging from a nuance to possibly killing or injuring your mantid. Those four pests are...

  • Spiders - They are everywhere typically, like it or not inside your house. Small spiders may be able to enter through the larger mesh materials and could injure a molting mantid (by feeding on it in it's helpless state). Or a larger spider may find access from a poorly glued mesh and kill your mantid nymph - the worst would be a larger spider finding access inside a ooth hatching container where it would cause a mantid apocalypse. Also a small spider may get in the mesh, and then grow to a size that will cause a problem later.
  • Fruit Flies - A common pest especially for anyone that eats fresh fruit, or if you use the flies as feeders for mantid nymphs. They are merely a nuance and are easy to keep out.
  • Ants - Often during the early spring and late fall homes can become infested with ants looking for food and shelter. As they are smaller they can enter through larger mesh material and adult mantids typically are unable to catch them. It's said ants can feed on the captive mantids and can cause it serious injury, and in large numbers death.
  • Mites - They tend to have large populations with some feeder cultures and spread easily to nearby containers. These are more of a nuance than much else thankfully.
Ventilation wise for your mantid habitat, adding a layer of organza fabric over other mesh materials will prevent the majority of pests, as a fine mesh will tend to stop them.

Mites are able to get in even through coffee filters. They are a nuance pest and tend to be around usually in small numbers. For large infestations search the forum for topics that will has various methods to kill and remove them.

Also you will need to ensure your glued habitat areas are free of any bad gluing, such as gaps or holes in the bead/seams around the edges. Check that the mesh material is hole free too - as it can become damaged from age, insects, and construction itself of the habitat.

For more topics and help fending off pests search the forum.

4. *- Feeding access options -*


With the mantid habitat fully sealed you will need a way to easily feed your mantid. The most common method is to make a small feeder hole and plug it with a sponge. I've also came up with a method that creates a feeder hole but has a secure screw on cap - using a small empty pill bottle (see the photo above).

I use both methods with success, and had no problems - although I cover any pros and cons to both in their areas below.

You can use a single or double feeding hole, interchange the feeding holes with the same material for the top and bottom, or switch it around if you prefer. I chose to use the bottle feeding hole on the top as it helps to hold a funnel to pour in crickets and similar feeders, rather than just a hole.

The feeder hole on the bottom I found is easiest for inserting flies and moths, and they can fly up and attract my mantids attention. As it is just a hole I insert flies with a feeder bottle as made by dmina, and recommend it. For smaller fruit flies I use my fly baster and simply squirt the FF's inside.

4.1 - Capped top access


In the photo above you can see the bottle cap has been unscrewed and a plastic funnel is inserted into the feeder hole. This is one bonus of this type of feeder opening, you can simply pour crickets or cockroaches into the funnel and have less to worry about with escaping feeders.

Anymore though I tend to just grab feeders with tweezers and insert them into the bottom feeder hole - as I break crickets knees on their large hind legs with tweezers to slow them down and prevent them from damaging my smaller mantids.


There are two cons to using the pill bottle feeder access, and one is easily fixed.

One is that feeders, or the mantids themselves, may wind up in the bottle - both have happened to me. Although it is easy to check by peering up into the feeder bottle opening from looking up from the bottom of the habitat - and tap the bottle cap several times to encourage and dislodge anything that may be hiding inside.

I have also added aluminum mesh to some bottle caps (same way as I make the ventilation lids) so I can easily see if anything is inside the bottle; however, I've noticed that it seemed to attract the mantids and feeders more, as they can peer out of it.

The other con is that this feeder hole will shrink the gripping area on the lid for mantids. So use the smallest bottle that will fit the feeders you will be using, or simply use a container with a larger lid area.


Capped top construction Part 1

You will need a clean and empty pill bottle, the smaller the better. Just ensure it is large enough for any feeders you use, to be able to pass through it. I find the $1 aspirin or ibuprofen bottles work perfect, they come in the typical 20, 50, and 100 pill count per bottle.

Simply cut through the bottle near the top, about 1" (2.5cm) from the bottom of the cap (see the arrow in the photo above, first image). Often the cut will not be perfect so simply use scissors and cut off any excess to level the new bottom of the bottle. In the end a bottle length of 1/2" (1.2cm) to 3/4" (2cm) is a good length under the cap.

The bottom part of the bottle is useless (unless you have a use for a insect water dish or egg laying container) so you can throw it away.

Also at this point it is a good idea to clean off any foil or residue from the top of the bottle, under the cap, where it was originally sealed. A razor can be used to scrape off any that refuses to come off easily.


Capped top construction Part 2

Place the modified pill bottle on top of your completed ventilated lid. Position the bottle to slightly overlap the edge of the lid itself (see the images in the photo above).

With the proper placement, use a maker and trace the bottom of the bottle opening. You should have a visible line when your done, as show by the arrow in the photo above.


Capped top construction Part 3

Using your hot glue gun run a thick bead of hot glue over the traced bottle line, being sure to make it wide rather than thick. The hot glue will give the mesh material strength and prevent any of it from fraying during cutting. Also on the areas where the traced circle near the container lid itself lay extra hot glue, forming two closed V shapes - this will it extra strength to withstand the bottle lid being screwed on/off repetitively (see the photo above, first image with the two arrows).

Once the glue dries use a pair of scissors to poke into the middle of the traced bottle line area. Then cut out the section a little less than the traced line. You want a tight fit, and can cut out more as needed later (2nd image of the single arrow).


Capped top construction Part 4

This likely doesn't warrant it's own part, but is a crucial part of the construction of the capped feeder.

With a hole for the pill bottle cut into the mesh, you want to test that the hole is large enough. Remove the container lid and insert the pill bottle, cap first, through the hole you just made. If it does not fit, see which section needs to be enlarged and make the cuts. You want a nice tight fit where the bottle can hold itself in the opening (as it is doing in my photo above); however, too tight and it will wrinkle or even break the ventilation mesh.

Continue widening the hole for the pill bottle as needed until you get the correct fit. If, however, you make the opening too large you can still use it by just using more hot glue to seal it, but it will not be as good as a nice fit.


Capped top construction Part 5

Having a tight fitting opening for the pill bottle you are near ready to hot glue it in place. You will want to ensure that the bottom of the pill bottle extends a bit beyond the lid mesh on the underside of the container lid.

With the bottle properly placed, run a bead of hot glue around the area where the bottle and mesh meet on top, being sure to apply enough to fill any openings completely (photo above image 1). Flip over the container lid and apply a bead of glue around the bottle and mesh on the underside as well (photo above image 2).

Once the glue dries you can then take a pair of scissors and cut the bottom of the pill bottle flush with the ventilation mesh. With the bottle being flush, it will interfere with your mantid less in it's daily life.

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4.2 - Sponge bottom access


The sponge covered feeding hole is the most common method used by mantid keepers. Typically it is a simple hole cut into the mantid habitat, usually about 1/2" (1.3cm) in diameter. When not in use a piece of sponge is inserted to plug and close the hole opening.

The most common variation of this, is the feeder hole can be placed anywhere on the habitat (on the lid, middle of the side, or near the bottom or top edge). I use it primarily as a feeder hole for feeding GB and BB flies (Green Bottle and Blue Bottle respectively), and place it about 1 1/2" (4cm) from the bottom of the habitat container - leaving enough room for substrate.

I like my feeder hole low as it encourages the flies to enter the habitat more easily (as they can see the substrate). As a bonus the flies have more room to travel after entering (which makes my mantids take notice of the feeders more).


Cutting the sponge feeder opening

Using a hobby knife or razor cut out a opening that is roughly 1/2" (1.3cm) in diameter. If however, you are using pre-made feeder sponge material or corks, you need to cut the opening to the size of your material.

You can trace a circle to cut for the opening, or use a drawing compass as well; although, the sponge material will expand to fit misshaped or different sized holes just fine - so I find that unnecessary.

Remember when placing the feeder hole, leave enough room for the substrate you plan to add in the habitat container. Placing the center of the feeder hole 1 1/2" (4cm) from the bottom of the habitat container will give you enough room for 1/2" (1.3cm) to 3/4" (2cm) of substrate. Place the hole higher on the container if you want to use more substrate.

Depending on the container plastic you will have to make several passes on the feeder hole. This depends on the container thickness and prevents the plastic from cracking. For thin clear plastic, like deli cups, one or two passes is good. For large containers with thick brittle plastic about 5 passes is required.


Creating feeder sponges Part 1

The hardest part is to track down a usable sponge material to make them with. I've found after searching many stores the best source of sponges is in the automotive departments of stores, using cheap car washing sponges. They are 100% sponge material and are not covered in fabric or other materials.

You also want a sponge that is not treated with anything, some come soaked in soap, polish, or other chemicals. The ones I use come from Wal-mart and are only a few bucks for a sponge that is large enough to make at a few dozen feeder hole sponges.


Creating feeder sponges Part 2

To make the feeder sponges for a 1/2" (1.3cm) diameter hole, you will want to cut a section of sponge that is about twice the width, so about 1" (2.5cm) in width (see the photo above, first image).

I find it best to cut the sponge by squeezing it slightly and using a good pair of scissors to cut through the sponge thickness in one cut. Then make repeated cuts across the width of the sponge to cut off the section.

With the 1" (2.5cm) cut section of sponge you are ready for the next step (see the photo above with the arrow).


Creating feeder sponges Part 3

Using the 1" (2.5cm) section, cut off a new small section that is about triple the diameter of the hole. So for the example 1/2" (1.3cm) feeder hole you will cut a section that is 1 1/2" (4cm) wide (see the arrow in the photo above).

With the sponge in it's final size you will begin to round the feeder sponge. To round the sponge, use scissors to trim off all four edges of the sponge (shown in the photo above, 2nd image).


Creating feeder sponges Part 4

Continue to round off the section of sponge, by continuing to cut off the corners. Once you have a rounded piece of sponge that is about 1" (2.5cm) in size you are finished cutting.

Finally take your hands and rub them over the finished feeder sponge to knock off any loose pieces of sponge.


Fitting the feeder sponge Part 1

Take your finished feeder sponge and insert it about 1/4" (0.6cm) to 1/2" (1.2cm) into the feeder hole. You will need to squeeze the end of the sponge to make it fit easily into the hole. Once inserted, it should expand and fill the feeder hole completely.

I tend to twist the sponge as well a bit when inserting them to ensure that the entire end of the sponge is inside the feeding hole.

If the feeder sponge is too small, cut off a new piece of sponge and try again. Keep the small feeder sponge though, as it may fit another habitat you build.

From the rounded feeder sponge, I typically can get three finished pieces of feeder sponges for my habitats.


Fitting the feeder sponge Part 2

The final step is to cut off the excess length of the feeder sponge with scissors. I tend to leave mine about 1" (2.5cm) long on the outside of the container. The 1" (2.5cm) outside piece of feeder sponge is plenty of area to grip to remove or insert the sponge, and is not overly long (and get in the way of nearby mantid habitats).

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5. *- Decoration -*


How much or how little decoration you use in your mantid habitats is more of a personal choice, than in regards to mantids typically.

Some mantid keepers use only a plain paper tower substrate and nothing more in the habitat. While others will build a full scale vivarium (planted terrarium with mantids inside) along with exotic living plants. The latter is well beyond the scope of this guide, and my various real planted habitats may get it's own guide sometime.

I tend to keep my decorations simple though, but those have a purpose other than just for looks entirely. For example in my mantid nymph habitats I keep them with a small twig often in a 8oz cup container with a thin layer of substrate. This ensures they have little molting issues. The substrate provides a source of moisture, and I can use springtails in the substrate which can be a food source for tiny nymphs too.

For adult mantids I make fancier habitats as there is no fear or them molting from low surfaces, and to provide areas for females to lay their ooths. My current builds include a multi-forked branch with silk flowers (for climbing and hiding - less stress), and a plentiful amount of substrate for a active colony of springtails to keep the habitat clean by eating feeder remains and mantid frass.

5.1 - Sterilizing decorative items

For most items you find and collect from your backyard, a park, nearby wooded area, or even from inside your house - they should be sterilized to some degree for safety. As many items will contain various insects already, or their eggs, which can be a problem for you and your mantid. This includes leaf litter, dirt, sticks/branches/twigs/logs, rocks, and more.

I realize many keepers don't bother to sterilize their objects, but I've encounter several problems when I haven't done it. As such I'd recommend you sterilize your items to avoid the problems I've had, or worse, too.

For example I collected leaf litter, and removed foreign matter and gave it a good check for insects. I then added it to my isopod colony (Armadillidium nasatum). Later I found a centipede was in the leaf litter, and it nearly ate all of my isopod colony before I discovered it.

Another recent example is a old gnarly 3" (7.6cm) branch that I found and added to my millipedes tank. Even after sterilizing, oven baking for about 3 hours, there must have been a spider inside it that survived. As after a few days in the millipede habitat I noticed spider webs in the branch holes.

There are four basic methods that will work, and of course some are more effective than others depending on the item(s) to be sterilized. They are...

  • Oven baking - Putting the item(s) on cookie sheets at 200 degrees F (93 C) and letting them bake for 2 to 3 hours. After sterilizing the item(s) you will want to run a clean cycle on your oven, or at least run it at 350 degrees F (177 C) for several hours to get out any smells (otherwise they will cook in your food next time, I speak from my experiences...).
  • Boiling water - There tends to be two overlapping methods here. Boil the water and submerge the item(s) for several minutes to 15 minutes (depending on thickness). Or using the steam from the boiling water to clean the item(s) as well.
  • Freezing - Such as a good refrigerator freezer at near 0 degrees F (-17 C), or better yet a deep freezer such as a chest or vertical one. For best results though it should be left frozen 24-48 hours.
  • Vinegar or Bleach - Applied in a diluted form direct to the item(s). Vinegar is great, and can be used non-diluted as well, or a mixture of 50% vinegar to 50% water is common. Bleach is a stronger cleaner and should be mixed 10% bleach to 90% water. A side effect of bleach though is it can fade/dye colors. With either cleaner it is recommended to clean the item(s) with pure water afterwards and then let it dry before use.

Before starting any of the methods it is recommended to do a basic cleaning to get off excess dirt, loose bark, grass clippings, and such (unless it is dirt to sterilize obviously, then you want to pick out foreign matter). A small brush such as a finger nail brush or tooth brush is of great help.

If you combine a few methods of sterilizing it should further ensure it is clean. Such as oven baking the item(s), and then freezing them.

Also some members report success with sterilizing with a microwave oven, but doesn't seem to be common so I really don't know much of the results. In that regard, a microwave oven is sometimes used as well to dry the sterilized item(s) - especially useful after boiling the item(s) in water.

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5.2 - Gripping surfaces

Gripping surfaces for your mantid include the plastic container itself (as it can climb the walls), the ventilated lid, decorations such as sticks, and possible other materials.

With feeders such as crickets and cockroaches adding a stick to the habitat will help in feeding your mantid too - as they will usually climb the stick looking to escape where they will be caught. You will quickly discover that all mantids enjoy their stick, and I find it well worth the small percentage of mismolts. Mantids feel more secure and at night can often be found hanging from the backside of the stick asleep.

Additional decorative items also provide great gripping areas for you mantid such as foam backgrounds, silk flowers and plants, screen mesh "walking strips", and even rocks and logs in the substrate.

This isn't to say you need to stuff your mantid habitats full of decorations, but rather think of them in terms of value for your mantid.

5.3 - Sticks/twigs


The two tools in the above photo are my main tools for working with small branches for my habitats. A pair of diagonal pliers (also sometimes referred to as diagonal cutters), and a hacksaw blade for larger pieces.

Collecting sticks

Ideally you will want long sticks of at least 1' (30.5cm) that have many forks in them and are about 1/4" (0.6cm) to 1/2" (1.2cm) in size. Of course you can find them in the length you need for a single habitat, but it will take you much longer to collect them that small.

Sticks from hardwood trees are best such as Ash, Beech, Birch, Cherry, Elm, Hickory, Maple, and Oak (for a bigger list look here).

You can cut the branches from recently fallen trees, found sticks on the ground, or from pruning your own trees. After some light pruning of a few branches of a maple tree in my backyard I had enough sticks that lasted nearly a year (or about 100 habitats).

I remove any leaves/stems/fruit from the sticks and branches. Although I leave all the small twigs and such attached, and in a large size that is still easy enough for me to carry (with some being rather large branches if I have the space).

I then carry them to my shed, or into the basement until needed.

Cleaning sticks

With the leaves removed, check for and remove anything that doesn't belong (insects, spiders, maple gals, etc.). I'd recommend you then sterilize them as covered in 5.1 - Sterilizing decorative items.

If you sterilizing them you will likely need to cut the large ones into pieces that will easily fit into the oven or where you plan to sterilize them. I recommend you leave at least 4" (10cm) on either side of a good forked piece, so some custom cutting will be needed. This will provide you with much better pieces for your habitats than just cutting at random.

Sticks in habitats

When building a adult mantid habitat I find the best method is to place the bottom of the stick in the habitat in one corner and lay the stick to the other corner (same side or wall of the container). Cut the stick below where the lid closes on the habitat, after all you will have to close the habitat - some habitat lids will protrude in the container so you will need to know where this is.

I typically cut a stick so the fork portion is near the top of the habitat area, and cut off smaller twigs and pieces closer to the bottom. I found diagonal pliers is the easiest method to cut the sticks; however, if the wood is seasoned or thicker a hacksaw blade makes quick work of the cuts.

For nymphs I tend to use a single small straight section of stick, and position it nearly vertical (straight up and down) to prevent the mantids from molting low on them (causing mismolts).

If you are using a substrate, the sticks can be held in place by the substrate and where it rests on the habitat. Then if any of the sticks are places where an adult female mantid laid ooths, they can be removed easily.

Although for most habitats I find some hot glue applied at the sections of the stick that touch the habitat (the ends of the stick) is best. If the glued sticks hold ooths they can be pried loose often very easy to be removed anyway.

Most of my mantid habitats have one stick in them, how many you want is up to you. For adult female mantids, or any you plan to breed, additional sticks will provide places for her to lay ooths. As many females can be rather picky on finding just the right spot, and as they lay multiple ooths, they will need enough room to lay those as well.

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5.4 - Flowers and plants


To keep your mantid habitats from looking like something in a Tim Burton film, or the dead of winter, flowers and plants can be added to give it life and color. The most common and easiest method is to use silk flowers and silk ivy - once again live plants can be used but are not in this guide.

You can find a good section of various silk flowers, long strands of silk ivy, and such at many craft and floral departments. Even most dollar stores have a decent selection. I tend to buy small flower designs (heads) so I can work more into a habitat, but just a few large flowers look nice as well.

I will say there is a downfall/con to using silk flowers - they will usually absorb any fluids that touch them. So if your mantid pukes, feeder insect juices drip on them, or you have hard tap water the silk flowers will start looking bad quickly and need replaced.

In the meantime your mantids will have cover and places to explore, and give them some blockage from nearby mantid habitats so they are a good investment. To be honest though I've replaced only a few of the silk flowers in my habitats, as the stains will fade and make them typically look more natural anyway.

Besides using the entire flower strand stem by stem, you can glue flower heads or just the leaves directly to the habitat sticks or walls as well. There is no right or wrong way and some experimenting can provide great end results.


Using silk flowers Part 1

The flowers will need to be cut into usable pieces, and is a simple task. Bend a single stem down as shown in the photo above with the arrow. Silk flowers have wire in the stems so they can be arranged/positioned as needed, and work great for other uses as we will do.

Using diagonal pliers, cut the stem close to the bunch. You can cut the whole bunch if you want to have the rest ready as you need them.


Using silk flowers Part 2

I wrap my flowers around my sticks after the sticks are already in the habitat, but have wrapped it first for the photos. You can however do it either way, and likely doing the flowers first will yield better results.

Hold the loose end (where you cut) to the stick with one hand. With the other, twist the flower around the stick multiple times until you reach the end.

In the above photo you will see the arrow pointing at the end. I point this out as you will have to cover the end to prevent you mantid from getting injured from it. You can simply cover the end with a thick ball of hot glue, or for a better result and more decoration use a flower head as described below.


Using silk flowers Part 3

From another stem of flowers simply place your fingers around the head of the flower and pull. The flower head will easily separate as they are typically just friction fitted (see the above photo image one, with two arrows). On the back of the flower head is a hollow tube that fits around the flower stems.

Take the flower head and press the cut loose stem end of the wrapped flower into the flower head tube. This will enclose the wire end and give you two flowers instead of just one - although some stems have multiple flowers (as the one in my photos did originally).

As the final step I pulled the flower leaves out of the twisted stem for a better look and apply small dots of hot glue around the stem in a few places to secure it in place.

Repeat this as much as needed for your habitats. Another solution is to also pull the flower heads and leaves off of the wire stems and hot glue directly to the habitat stick itself, or even the walls too.

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5.5 - Substrate


Substrate (or habitat dirt) is one topic that many mantid keepers seem to be set on.

Some keep their mantids with a bare bottom, and insert paper towel in the bottom to catch frass and leftovers. This allows them to replace the paper towel to clean the habitat. The paper towel when sprayed with water holds some moisture too.

For me I find it too unnatural, and without a substrate the habitat can not have cleaning crews (insect cleaners that also act as feeders for mantids). Substrate is a much less involved process, nothing to replace or clean, and something I don't have to think about other than to water occasionally.

If you choose to use a substrate the common options are coconut fiber (either ground shells, chips, or so-called plantation soil) and ground sphagnum peat moss.

Coconut is a good option as it is anti-fungal, good moisture absorbent material, and low odor. It typically comes in compressed bricks that you have to soak in water, or in bags loose (although you get a lot less compared to a brick). The only real problem I find in it is the high cost and limited availability.

As my local pet store was sold out of coconut again, and I had to make a lot of nymph cups for a recently hatched ooth I had to look for other options once. I found that a huge bale of sphagnum peat moss was a much more affordable option, down right cheap - and provided the same basic substrate results (moisture/humidity control, cleaning crew living space, and no odor).

For coconut fiber at my pet store it cost about $7 for 8 quarts (compressed brick) - the bale of sphagnum peat moss was $10 for 89.81 quarts. So coconut fiber costs $0.027 an ounce and the sphagnum peat moss is $0.003 an ounce (less than a penny!). So I get 9 ounces of sphagnum peat moss for the same price as a single ounce of coconut fiber! Heck, depending on local costs in your area you may get it for the same or lower price as me, and if not it will still be lots cheaper than coconut fiber.

Anyway I've been using sphagnum peat moss for a quite awhile and have had no issues when I have a standard cleaning crew in it. Even in dryer habitats without a cleaning crew I've had only one single issue in a single habitat once, and likely that was only due to the stick itself and not the sphagnum peat moss.

If you choose to use sphagnum peat moss too, it is easily found at any garden center. Look for a variety that has nothing added to it, such as mine that is 100% organic.


Mixing substrate Part 1

Any substrate you use in your habitat will need to be moist and as long as it is not compressed, will follow the same instructions as the sphagnum peat moss I use.

Place a large enough portion of substrate into a clean bucket to fill your habitat. Then begin to mix with water, allowing the substrate to soak up the water for a couple of minutes as you mix it.


Mixing substrate Part 2

Ultimately the substrate is ready for use when it forms into a clump when pressed/gripped in your hand. Then when your fingers push lightly against the clump it falls apart (as seen in my photo images above).

If your substrate is too dry continue adding water slowly; however, if it is too wet just mix in some more substrate to soak up the extra water. If there is way too much water you can pour off the excess by holding your hand over the end of the bucket and pour the water through your closed fingers (it will hold in most of the substrate).

With the proper moisture add the substrate to your nearly finished mantid habitat, keeping it off the walls and decorations. I add about a 1/2" (1.2cm) to 1" (2.5cm) layer depending on the size of the habitat.

Cleaning Crew

A mantid habitat cleaning crew consists of springtails and isopods - although for mantid nymphs I typically use only springtails.

These are added to the a completed mantid habitat with substrate only, as they live in the substrate. Although springtails can be added before substrate too, in case you keep your springtail culture in dirt. Add a amount of springtails (in my culture a spoonful is several hundred easy) to your habitat then cover with the substrate. The springtails will be at the top, and throughout it, in just a few moments (while the substrate covers and hides their dirt).

The springtails eat mold, mantid frass, and feeder leftovers. Their population will increase and decrease as needed depending on the food levels for them. As long as the mantid habitat is kept relatively humid they should be fine. Isopods eat mites, mantid frass, and feeder leftovers too. Their population will depend on moisture levels and can increase to a point where they could be a pest (although in my mantid habitats it has never happened). Isopods require water to breathe, and if a habitat dries out too much at any point they can die off quickly.

Besides the cleaning crew keeping the habitat clean they also can be feeders for your mantids as well. Small mantid nymphs will often eat the springtails, and larger mantids will occasionally eat isopods (although typically never enough to affect their population as cleaners).

To ensure you always have enough cleaning crews for your habitats, new habitats or having to add them to old habitats too, it is easy to culture the cleaning crews themselves. They require very little maintenance or upkeep, and isopods especially, can be like pets as well.

For isopod cultures I wrote a article here, Isopod (Pillbug, sowbug, rolly pollies) DIY habitat setup, and for springtails you can read about my culture setup from here (I should write a simple guide about it sometime).


Substrate decoration

Some keepers like to give their mantid habitats a finished look and just plain substrate doesn't cut it.

Although I admit anymore I tend to just use plain substrate now. I worry that feeders such as crickets and others can too easily hide from the mantid, and perhaps cause it injury at a later time when it is molting. Once though a mantid was molting and a cricket was nearby on a stick and did not interfere at all, I imagine though it is not very common and should be avoided (I did get photos of them both, and returned the cricket after the mantid finished to his culture - where I imagine he finished his life from old age).

One simple solution is to put down a thin layer of Spanish moss on the top of the substrate (as seen in my photo above). I must warn you though, it tends to break-up into very tiny pieces and is near impossible to remove from the substrate. I've tried it a few times in small habitats and didn't like it; however, in larger habitats it might be great (might have to try it again in some adult habitats myself).

The other solution is to place rocks, glass beads, and such into the substrate. Giving it a more polished or natural look, especially if you use river rocks. A quick solution is to also angle the substrate itself, or form it into tiny hills. This will also give the substrate some decorative qualities all by itself.

I've also seen some keepers who use aquarium decorations such as the sign posts, shrunken pirate ships and such too. If you have some on hand to try out yourself, you might like them too. As a warning though watch out for any sharp points as they may injury your mantid.

Likely one of the best looks though, is one that has a theme throughout the habitat itself. For example dmina made a Fairy Garden, complete with tools. Of course there is also the Welcome to SpongeWorld build by Sporeworld that comes to mind.

There are no real right or wrongs in decorating as long as the mantid living in it is happy and healthy. Once you start making habitats and experimenting, your sure to find some interesting things to build yourself.

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