Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Beetle, Beetle Burning Bright

Sidewalk Tiger Beetle (Cicindela puncticolis) in Michigan

For most of my life, my bug interests have started and ended with butterflies. This began changing in the late 1990s when I started going to the Invertebrates in Captivity Conference and hanging out with a lot of cool entomologists with much broader interests. I’ve become hooked on several other groups. For some reason, I’m particularly taken with tiger beetles. Over at Niches, Wayne posted some beautiful photos of the six-spotted tiger beetle. That’s a common species here in Illinois, and for many years it was the only one that I was familiar with. It was the first species that I collected about three years ago. Since that time, I have been having a blast both collecting and photographing tiger beetles.

Big Sand Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa) in Michigan

Tiger beetles seem particularly fond of open areas without a lot of vegetation. Many like sandy and muddy areas, though there are plenty of exceptions to this. I always look for them when I am along a beach or a shoreline. I’ve now seen a total of four species at Bluff Spring Fen.

Sutured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela suturalis) on a beach in Puerto Rico

My Lifelist is now up to 22 species. Leon has exhibited a lot of patience with my newfound obsession. He became aware of the degree of my interest in 2005, the year I began paying attention to the group. We took a vacation to his high school reunion in southwest Oregon, then drove up to visit friends on the Olympic Peninsula. That was an excellent trip from a tiger beetle standpoint. We saw four species, including representatives from riverbanks, sand dunes, and in alpine areas.

Boreal Long-lipped Tiger Beetle (Cicindela longilabris) in the High Sierra

Last fall, while we were backpacking in the Sierras, it was Leon who first noticed the boreal long-lipped tiger beetles running around on an alpine slope that we were climbing. This is a particularly beautiful species, especially the green western populations. I was especially pleased that I was able to get some good photos.

Tiger beetles are hard both to photograph and to catch. They are voracious predators. When pursuing prey, most species run rapidly over the ground, and intersperse bursts of running with short flights. When alarmed, they fly off rapidly. They are powerful fliers and very wary. This challenge is particularly acute in warm weather when their metabolism (and therefore activity) is high. Nowhere is this feature more difficult than at Wilcox Playa.

Wilcox Playa

Wilcox Playa is a (mostly) dry lakebed in southeast Arizona. During the summer monsoon season it’s glaringly bright and hot. It’s also an amazing place to see tiger beetles. When I was there last August, we saw eight species. At Wilcox, the beetles are both abundant and species diverse. There are at least one species ant two subspecies of beetle that are endemic to the one small valley that the playa sits in.

Arid Lands Tiger Beetle (Cicindela marutha)

Most of the individuals that we saw were the beautiful arid-land tiger beetle. At one point, I noticed that one in my collecting jar had similar colors but a completely different wing pattern. It was the Sulfur Springs Valley subspecies of the glittering tiger beetle.

Glittering Tiger Beetle (Cicindela fulgoris erronea)

Unfortunately, the weather was so hot and the beetles so active that I was unable to get any photos. Even the flightless grass runner tiger beetle was hard to catch. I’ll be back next summer. I vow to succeed with the photography.

Grass Runner Tiger Beetle (Cicindela debilis)



At 17:58, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just step on it gently so as to keep the guts inside and then you can photograph it all you want. Hell, you could even pose it in creative ways!

I'm kidding.

Seriously though, what is it that draws you to this particular bug so much? The colors? They are pretty! But is there something particular that is amazing about them?
I get all giddy when I see a honey bee, and they all look generally the same. I have my reasons, you see, what are yours?

At 21:40, Blogger Chris said...

I have to admit those beetles are kinda pretty, just as long at they are not crawling on me!
I hope that comment wasn't too girly.

At 22:39, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post on tiger beetles. I'm going to have to spend some time seeking more of these out. I have a thing about predators - the more different species of predators that I see the healthier I know the local ecosystem is. Spray a pesticide, or get rid of all your weeds, and I suspect that 90% of your predators are gone.

Don't know about you, Doug, but that's what I look for, and find amazing.

The interesting thing about tiger beetles is that they all look really tigerish! And the markings really are amazing.

At 00:06, Blogger Ur-spo said...

i like beetles, ever since that poem by AA Milne
Have you found Alexander yet?

At 13:34, Blogger Dave Coulter said...

doug - Was that green one at Niches native to Illinois? Any particular habitat?

At 14:45, Blogger Doug Taron said...

butterfly girl- Great question. I suppose what attracts me to tiger beetles is the strong theme and variation that they exhibit. Other groups- like scarrabs- show so much variation that you would be hard pressed to realize that certain members were related to each other at all. Tiger beetles show much less range, but within that range there are different colors, patterns behavior and habitats. The fact that they are predators is also cool.

Chris- Welcome to the Tapestry. Thanks for stopping by. This is one group of bugs that is unlikely to spend much time crawling on you. Girly comments are always welcome here at the Tapestry.

Watyne- Thanks for stopping by and for providing the inspiration for this post. Georgia as really great tiger beetle diversity. There's a rare beach species on Jeckell Island. If you start seeing more of them, I want to see photos.

Spo- I had not seen that particular poem before. Charming! Also very apt, because a tiger beetle would certainly qualify as "an excited sort of beetle."

Dave- the species that Wayne photographed is probably the most abundant tiger beetle up here in the Chicago area. Look for them in savannas and other open woods. They will often run along fallen logs. I've seen a couple of occasions where they are hyperabundant. Two years ago along the route 31 bike path up in Richmond, I was seeing hundreds of them. Early May is when you usually begin seeing them.

At 19:52, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I DO like you educating the unlearned , Doug. These tiger beetles are gorgeous! When you DO make it to the northwest, I expect a little tour of our own yard to see some little animals that for 12 years, have gone undetected by me.

You're really helping me appreciate these guys...and I hope to learn more.

On the lame side, we're within a month of seeing the rise of the boxelder bug hordes arise from winter hibernations...they'll soon be sitting in the sunshine on the house, by the hundreds, warming up, getting ready to go lay eggs in the trees.

At 12:01, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darn your hide, Doug. You and Wayne have the best tiger beetles. I'm stuck down here with BUPKUS. I must be looking in the wrong place.

At 15:58, Blogger TR Ryan said...

I am in love with the marutha. What chemistry creates those patterns and colors?

Are there any exceptional ones I should be on the lookout for in Oklahoma? From birding to bugging!

At 16:59, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Mark- Boxelder bugs are one thing that the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest share. Our should be out, and behaving in much the same way, very soon.

TF23- I think you might be looking in the wrong spots. I've seen Cicindela trifasciata at I-75 and FL St.Rt. 29, and that was in January when almost no tiger beetles are active. For some really great info on tiger beetles in Florida, I recommend this. The folks to cuss out on this are the guys in SE Arizona. They have way more tiger beetle species than you, Wayne, or myself. Possibly more than the 3 of us combined.

TR- OK has a pretty good tiger beetle diversity. I haven't spent much time there, so I don't have much detailed info. Lot's of folks seem to be expanding their birding interests to include insects there days. It's lots of fun. I will probably do a whole post this week responding to your chemistry question.

At 09:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think tiger beetles fascinate me so much because they are so agile, and so hard to catch or even observe.

And, you know, SHINY!

At 21:25, Blogger Doug Taron said...

bug girl- I agree on all counts. And in a nice coincidence, I was composing the blog entry about the nature of the shiny tiger beetle colors just as you were posting this comment (cue Twilight Zone music).


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