Caring for insects as pets may sound strange, but thousands of people all over the world already have praying mantises and other stick insects as pets, according to a new report from Pensoft Publishers.
Praying mantises are gaining popularity and fueling a largely unknown market. They are sold at fairs and pet markets, or collected in the wild and then reared by amateurs or professionals.
Some are elegant, with flower-like coloration (the Orchid Mantis, Hymenopus coronatus), and some resemble Pokémons (the Jeweled Flower Mantis, Creobroter wahlbergii). Surprisingly, some of these creatures can even be cuddled (the Giant Shield Mantis Rhombodera basalis).
When selecting an insect as a pet, features such as shape, size, colors, and behaviors are considered. Customers also shop for species that are rare or easy to care for.
It is important to understand how this market, which is largely unregulated, is changing. This could be crucial to conserve rare species and promote awareness of their habitat and place in the ecosystem.
Now, researchers have published a first overview of the praying mantis pet market. The research team includes 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).
The study authors surveyed 200 hobbyists, professional sellers in the mantis community from 28 different countries. The results showed that the targets of this market are indeed predictable. The typical mantis breeder or enthusiast is 19 to 30 years old, prefers beautiful species over rare ones, and is willing to spend over $30 per insect.
The researchers identified buyers as “mostly curious enthusiasts with poor knowledge of the market dynamics and the laws behind it, even if they seem to generally care about their pet.”
But the data suggests the trade is not always legal. One out of four instances lack permits or transparency from the seller. To ensure these species are conserved in nature, the researchers emphasize that collaboration between scientists and the insect pet community should be considered.
The biology, distribution, and threats to insects are largely unknown. Many species are still waiting to be discovered. This is a big limit to conservation, since you cannot protect what you don’t know.
“Hobbyists and pet insect enthusiasts are producing and sharing a huge quantity of observations on the biology and ecology of hundreds of species, even rare or still undescribed ones, a priceless heritage for the scientific community,” said the researchers.
“Strengthening the dialogue between them, promoting a white market over a black one, may be a crucial help for the conservation of these insects, fundamental parts of the biodiversity of our planet, that are replacing our traditional pets at home.”
The research is published in the Journal of Orthoptera Research.