There is a new trend in pets: thousands of people all over the world are swapping their hamsters and cats for praying mantises, stick insects and other types of bugs as pets. Praying mantises, for instance, have gained recent popularity as pets, sold at animal fairs and pet markets, but also collected in the wild by a fast-growing community of hobbyists and professional marketers.
The Buggy Details
Pet owners of bugs are interested in shape, size, colors, and behaviors of insects. They also take into account how rare a certain species is, or how easy it is to look after. A new scientific survey of over 200 pet bug owners from 28 different countries revealed 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, most people will prefer beautiful looking species over rare ones.
According to researchers, “these insects, sold at fairs and pet markets, or collected in the wild and then reared by amateurs or professionals, are gaining increased popularity and fueling a largely unknown market. Additionally, the data suggest that the pet insect trade might not always be on the legal side, as approximately one time out of four buyers perceive a lack of permits or transparency from the seller.
Not all popular pet insects are small, crawling monsters. 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 manipulated and cuddled as they look at you with big, cute kitty-eyes (the Giant Shield Mantis Rhombodera basalis).”
The science behind the insects-as-pets craze
As we have published recently, insects are endangered worldwide. Understanding how this pet insect 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. Mantises and insects in general, are poorly known in terms of biology, distribution, and threats, with many species still unknown and waiting to be discovered. This is a big limit to their protection and conservation, since we cannot protect what we don’t know about.
The researchers state that strengthening the dialogue between pet insect enthusiasts and scientists, and promoting a white market over a black one, may be crucial for the conservation of these insects and fundamental parts of the biodiversity of our planet, that are replacing our traditional pets at home.
Journal Reference: Roberto Battiston, William Di Pietro, Kris Anderson. The pet mantis market: a first overview on the praying mantis international trade (Insecta, Mantodea). Journal of Orthoptera Research, 2022; 31 (1): 63 DOI: 10.3897/jor.31.71458