The logo at the top of this site next to the title, “The Mantis Menagerie,” is a picture of one of the most beautiful animals I have ever kept. This is a picture of one of my subadult African spiny flower mantids (Pseudocreobotra ocellata). This picture is about one year old, and it is sad because about that time, I had to get rid of these mantids. I had been researching USDA regulations for months because I had heard rumors saying that mantids not found wild in the US were illegal to keep without the proper permits. After many months of research, I found the contact information for Wayne Wehling, the senior entomologist at the USDA. He confirmed the rumors; although many species of exotic mantids are sold freely throughout the US, possession of exotic mantids without a PPQ 526 permit is technically a violation of USDA regulations under the Plant Protection Act. The reason mantids are still sold is because there is no enforcement of the regulations on mantids. The USDA only enforces the regulations on species they are actually concerned could harm US agriculture. Mantids likely pose a minimal threat to agriculture, but that chance puts them under the USDA’s jurisdiction and the USDA made them illegal by default. The USDA’s claim to regulating them is that, as potential predators of pollinators, they fall under the definition of a plant pest in the Plant Protection Act. According to the act, any non-human animal that directly or indirectly harms plants is a plant pest, and eating pollinators could indirectly harm plants.
I gave the mantids to a local museum that had the proper permits, yet I continue to research the USDA’s regulations on other species. I am hoping to obtain permits for these mantids and keep them again. Unfortunately, the permits require certain conditions that are difficult for the average person to meet. To keep these relatively common pets legally, you must have a containment facility, which is a special room designed to be impervious to plant pests. I personally think this is too prohibitive. These mantids have been kept as pets in the US since before the Plant Protection Act was even instituted in 2000, and I have yet to see any reports of exotic mantids found wild in the continental US. The common exotic species kept as pets simply cannot survive our climate. (I am referring to the cooler regions of the continent. I support the regulations in places with more suitable climates for exotic mantids to become invasive, such as south Florida and parts of California.)
The reason I believe that exotic mantids, particularly ones from tropical regions (the most popular pet mantids, such as Hymenopus coronatus, Deroplatys sp., come from these regions) cannot tolerate temperate climates is simple. I have given this topic much thought, and I have come to the conclusion that since tropical mantis oothecae, which is the stage in which mantids diapause, are naturally hung on plants and other structures above ground, the oothecae have minimal protection from cold weather. The other life stages are inconsequential. Even temperate species are vulnerable to freezing weather when in the nymph and adult life stages. Tropical mantids have not have had the selective pressure in their evolutionary history to develop the ability to diapause in their oothecae as a means of surviving winter. Therefore, outside of the aforementioned areas in the continental US with favorable climates, exotic mantids, particularly ones from tropical regions, should have no possible way of surviving winters.
Unfortunately, the USDA does not share my opinion. Mantids get lumped with the plant pests. Until someone is successful at revising the regulations, we need to adhere to them. I have found the USDA-APHIS site to be frustrating when researching the regulations on common pet insect species. I am attempting to construct a page, here, on this blog that can be an informative reference for navigating regulations.