Eremiaphila Zetterstedti – Desert Pebble Mantis Caresheet
Not to be confused with the common ground mantid from the US, this mantid originates from the hottest parts of Africa. They are plump in appearance with a light mottled sandy coloring. They use this to blend in with the background of their desert habitat. They have incredible long legs which they use to run down their prey! Adults have tiny budwings because they never have the need to fly…and they can’t climb with their running legs as well.
Sexing: as with all species, females are sexed with 6 bottom abdomen segments while males sport 8 segments. You can place them in a clear bottom container and observe their abdomen from the bottom of the container to make it easy. Besides their abdomen segments, there is very little differences between the male and female.
Adult females are a little bit bigger than males and males are a little bit skinnier than the females. This is a relatively small species. The females can grow up to 4 cm and the males can grow up to 3 cm. They have a very long adult lifespan compared to other species so you’ll be in for a lot of fun! Another interesting fact about sexing these little buggers is their color. Based on my own observation, I was able to sex them by their coloring. Males have a slightly darker shade of orange on their body while the females remain paler in comparison. I tested this out with a pair of unsexed L2 nymphs and found that they were indeed what I hypothesized them to be.
For heating, use a halogen light bulb (or any other light bulb that generates heat well) and maintain the temperature no more than 40 C (104 F) during the day and drop the temperature to 20 C (68 F) at night to simulate the desert scenario. Do NOT reach above 50 C (122 F) or else the mantids may overheat. Be sure to keep only one side of the tank heated during the day to give the mantids a gradient heat source so they can choose which side is best suited for them. As for humidity, keep it at a constant 0%. This is a desert species and will rarely ever need water. You may mist them VERY lightly once a week, but they usually get their moisture from their prey.
Since this species cannot climb branches, it is best to give them plenty of floor space. They need the open ground to run around and catch their prey. They are fast and agile hunters so if there isn’t enough space for them to run, they will injure themselves by running into the walls and may develope an eye infection (black eyes) that can be fatal. The recommended cage dimension for a single adult is 10″Hx10″Wx12″L (younger nymphs may be kept in smaller containers). A top is not necessary since there is practically 0% chance of the mantid climbing out. Use a mixture of sand and small rocks for substrate. You may also choose to place a small cave-like object so the mantid can hide in when it wants. Nymphs hatch out at different stages and so unless they are of the same size, it is not recommended that you keep them together. Since smaller nymphs wont attack large prey, they may be kept together with sufficient space. Adults are definitely not communal and must be separated.
This species is not picky at all…because as soon as they run down their prey, they start munching on it right away before they even know what it is. Start out with fruit flies for the hatchlings and gradually move onto bigger prey for larger nymphs. However, feeding flies can be difficult due to the fact that the fruit flies may die of overheating right after dropping them into the cage…you can avoid this by dropping the fly next to the nymph and have it eaten up before it dies. This may take a while as you will be feeding it one by one, but it is a fun process anyway! Crickets may fare much longer than flies and can be used as a substitution. Nymphs of all sizes up to subadults will eat very small prey…they have smaller arms and are not as voracious as other mantid species…only adults will be aggressive and may tackle larger prey.
Here is the weird part, unlike other mantids that molt hanging upside down, this species molt right side up! When the time is right and all the signs point to a molting mantid (neglecting food, moving less frequently, etc), the mantid will molt in the upright position. Allow the mantid to fully dry out before resume feeding.
Breeding them is especially tricky. The copulation process is very violent and can result in an unsuccessful breeding if not monitored correctly. To prevent any complications, wait until the female is at least 6 weeks old after her final molt, then introduce the male (who can be bred after 2 weeks) into her enclosure. As soon as you see the male initiate copulation, wait until they finish (which should be about 10 minutes) and remove the male ASAP or else he will be eaten. It is very important that you are present at all times to intervene should something happen.
Mated females will make 1 to 2 oothecae every 10 days or so and will continue to do so for 20 oothecae. Each ootheca is buried in the sand so it is important to have at least 2 inches of sand for the female to dig in. Leave the ootheca to dry up for at least 2 days before removing it for incubation. Then, burry the oothecae with the ridge where the nymphs hatch out slightly exposed at the top and incubate with the same conditions as keeping live nymphs…40 C (104 F) with a drop to 20 C (68 F) at night. Mist the upper sand portion at night once a week and after the 4th week, increase the misting to 2x a week. Once you see signs of hatching nymphs, mist the oothecae once every other night in order for more nymphs to hatch out. Each ootheca contains 10-15 eggs and they hatch out one at a time and may take up to several weeks or months before the entire ootheca has finished. Because of this, you may have nymphs of all different stages all at once so time yourself to determine if you should slow down the growth of a particular mantis or speed up the growth of another.
IMPORTANT: females are especially rarer than males (about 1 in 6 hatchlings are females) so be sure to take good care of them. I don’t know if this is due to the temperature that the eggs are incubated or if it’s entirely genetics, but either way, the females should deserve more attention.
I received 7 oothecae and promptly started incubating them at 100 F. After 2 weeks of incubation, 2 nymphs hatched out shortly after I turned on the heat lamp. Perhaps it is attributed to them hatching early in the morning so the nymphs can be warm the whole day. This is the start of many more nymphs to come within days!
After only 1 day, the nymphs are showing signs of hunger. One nymph ate up 2 fruit flies in one sitting. The hatchlings are about 0.5 cm long, but possess long legs and run VERY quickly when disturbed.
These nymphs grow VERY fast with just the minimal food supply. The first molt takes place after 6 days and each successive molt takes place approximately 5-6 days after the previous molt. Perhaps it is due to their incredibly fast metabolism that they grow so fast. I still haven’t located a female yet, but I have a bunch of hatchlings and there’s bound to be at least one female. The males supposedly live very long so I’m not worried about males dying.
I just discovered a technique to sex young nymphs (L2 and up). See the “Sexing” section in this caresheet for more info.
It’s been a while since I updated, but I have managed to breed all 3 remaining adult females. The process was quite violent and no males survived. The first female instantly grabbed the male and started eating at his head. It was only due to my intervention and a cricket offering did she let him go and I was able to place his headless body on top of her and allow copulation to commence. The next two pairs went through a similar process, except one male had to be induced to mate; I actually had to grab his head with a pair of tweezers to induce the copulation process…gruesome, I know! And now I just have to wait for the oothecae to be deposited in the sand.
The first ootheca has just been made after 4 days! The female dug a small hole in the sand and as she deposited the ootheca underneath the sand, she used her back legs to scrape sand over the completed parts of the eggcase so that when she finished, it was already buried…fascinating species. Now comes the incubation process.