Hello, looks like a tricky customer...
This is the Giant Asian praying mantis, of the mantid family. The Giant Asian (in fact all praying mantis) looks like nothing else on earth. Part stick insect with a touch of buddhist monk, the tilting head of an inquisitive border collie and the hypnotic eyes of Lily Cole. The "praying" descriptor refers to its prayer-like appearance, not to "preying", as is commonly misinterpreted. Though having said that, he, or more likely she, is a pretty mean predator.
Oh yeah – likes to get her teeth into things does she?
You bet. Mantis will eat all sorts of bugs and creepy crawlies, which is why they were used extensively in farming as pest controllers against aphids and caterpillars (though this application is not encouraged in a suburban garden). Bearing in mind a full-size adult will grow to 8-10cm, they can be pretty intimidating towards an aphid. And the larger ones in the wild will even take on mini rodents, hummingbirds and small reptiles.
So what are the attractions of keeping one as a pet?
Females are generally bigger. They are best observed when feeding, and – here's the nasty bit – they like to hunt and feed on live bugs, so you must not be squeamish if you are thinking of keeping them as pets. They eat every other day and prefer live crickets, flies, etc, which are available from pet stores. Or you can catch them yourself.
How easy are they to look after?
According to Karen Baker of Exotic Pets in Chesterfield, they are easy to keep and require a vivarium about 12in x 12in x 12in made of glass so you can observe them. Being tropical, they will happily exist at room temperature (24-30C), and like humid conditions, so spraying of the inside of the tank with water twice a week is essential. Karen used to keep them as a child and she would take them out of the tank and rest them on plants on her windowsill in the summer. They're quite happy there, and won't stray – unless they get peckish – and will eat any bugs that come their way.
They are wise and have presumably gained the secret of eternal life...
Er, not exactly. In fact they will only live for about a year to 18 months, during which time they will go through several mini-metamorphoses, shedding their skins perhaps seven or eight times in their life cycle. If you're lucky you will get to see them do this.
So how do you manage to keep your mantis zen-tastically happy?
In their tanks there must be some branches and some greenery to spruce it up a bit. The branches will also serve as good hanging posts for the mantis when it comes time for shedding.
A female Giant Asian will set you back about £10. More exotic mantids, such as the spiney flower mantis, will cost a little more. Visit exotic-pets.co.uk or call the ever-helpful Karen on 01246 568390.