Reading Time: 2 minutes
Keeping insects at home as pets may sound strange to some, but thousands of people all over the world have already adopted praying mantises or stick insects, according to a press release.
These insects, sold at fairs and pet markets or collected in the wild and then reared by amateurs or professionals, are becoming more popular as pets.
Some are elegant, with flower-like coloration (the Orchid Mantis, Hymenopus coronatus), and some are funny-looking like Pokémons (the Jeweled Flower Mantis, Creobroter wahlbergii). Many can be safely cuddled and may have big, kitty-eyes (the Giant Shield Mantis Rhombodera basalis).
When choosing a pet insect, “customers” consider shape, size, colors, and behaviors. They might also take into account how rare a certain species is or how easy it is to look after.
So, who are these adopters of pet insects?
Understanding that answer, as well as how this market, still mostly unregulated, is changing, may be crucial to the conservation of rare species and promoting awareness of their habitat and place in the ecosystem, according to some researchers.
Roberto Battiston of Museo di Archeologia e Scienze Naturali G. Zannato (Italy), William di Pietro of the World Biodiversity Association (Italy) and entomologist Kris Anderson (USA) recently published the first overview of the mantis pet market.
The research, “The pet mantis market: a first overview on the praying mantis international trade,” published in the open-access Journal of Orthoptera Research, identified buyers as mostly curious enthusiasts but with poor knowledge of the market dynamics and related laws, even if they seem to generally care about their pet.
Based on a survey of almost 200 hobbyists, enthusiasts and professional sellers in the mantis community from 28 different countries, results showed that the typical mantis breeder or enthusiast is 19 to 30 years old and buys mantises mostly out of personal curiosity or scientific interest. Willing to spend over $30 for a single individual insect, most prefer a beautiful looking species over a rare one.
The research abstract relates that, “This market is not well known, and its implications on the biology and conservation of these insects are complex and difficult to predict” but that pet mantis adoption comes with “both problems and opportunities.”
One problem is illegal trade. Data suggests the mantis trade might not always be on the legal side. About one time out of four, the lack of permits or transparency from the seller is perceived from the buyer.
On the plus side, adopters of insects might provide needed insight. Mantises and other insects are poorly known in terms of biology, distribution and threats, with many species still unknown and waiting to be discovered. This lack of knowledge limits their protection and conservation. But, the researchers believe hobbyists and pet insect enthusiasts produce a huge quantity of observations on the biology and ecology of hundreds of species.
The researchers also noted that strengthening the dialogue between the science community and insect adopters might help discourage buying the insects from the black market.
Credit: William Di Pietro
The orchid mantis Hymenopus coronatus is one of the most requested mantis on the market.
Battiston R, Di Pietro W, Anderson K (2022) The pet mantis market: a first overview on the praying mantis international trade (Insecta, Mantodea). Journal of Orthoptera Research 31(1): 63-68. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.31.71458