Tiger beetles are among the many beetles I like to watch and I look forward to seeing them every year. They are easy to find once you know their habitats and the time of year they are out and about. These predatory beetles are fast on their feet and are also among the quickest of the beetles to take flight. Walking along open trails, you may see something fly off just ahead of where you were going and land not too far away. If you don’t get a good look at it, you may mistake it for a fly because both insects are quick to take off in flight and because they are often found in the same habitat.
As of 1996, there were fourteen species of tiger beetles in Connecticut, seven of which are on the state’s protected list. They are members of the Carabidae family, which are the ground beetles. Like most ground beetles, the larval stage is spent in the ground and some tiger beetles take two years to complete their life cycle. Most tiger beetles are found in habitats featuring low or sparse vegetation and sandy soils. If you want to see adults in action, look for them on sunny days as most become inactive if clouds block the sun for any length of time.
To identify a beetle as a tiger beetle look for three things- bulging eyes, long legs and crisscrossed mandibles that are formidable in appearance. When standing still, they have a distinctive posture where the head is up, the rear is down, and the body is held high off the ground on stilt- like hairy legs. These insects are built for speed both on the ground and in the air.
A tiger beetle is predatory in both the adult and larval stage. The larva is an ambush predator, similar to the ant lion, which lies in wait beneath the ground. It lives in a vertical tube in the soil and you may see its head just inside the tube as it waits for prey to amble on by. When that happens, the larva pops out and grabs its victim with its powerful jaws and then pulls it into the burrow. Larvae can survive for weeks without food and are also able to survive temporary flooding.
Adults have powerful sickle- shaped overlapping jaws which they use for capturing prey such as ants, spiders and other arthropods. They can catch prey both on the ground and in the air. They are so fast when pursuing oblivious ants that I have sometimes seen them overrun them and have to do an about- face. Their vision appears acute, and while they perch, they will suddenly turn in the direction of any movement. This can make it very difficult to approach them if you are trying get a closer look. A tip is to crouch down, with the sun ahead of you so as not to cast a shadow that will trigger flight. Then move slowly toward the beetle. Tiger beetles are also preyed upon by dragonflies, robber flies, birds, and small vertebrates, so they are approachable to some extent.
Look for tiger beetles in open sunny areas that have low or sparse vegetation with scattered rocks and sandy soils. Some are found along woodland trails and forest edges. Once you have found a tiger beetle, you will probably be able to find it the next year. Note the time of year and the exact area you saw it. They are reliably found, if not in almost exactly the same spot, then within ten to twenty yards of it. If disturbed, most tiger beetles will fly only a short distance away and may be found by simply walking ahead in the direction you saw it fly. The adult may sit and wait for some small insect to scurry by and then use its speed to run it down. Or it may run forward and stop repeatedly as it checks out any promising activity.
There are several species in Connecticut that are of special concern. One is the federally threatened and state endangered species Cicendela puritan, the Puritan tiger beetle. This beetle is found in two small areas in the country- periodically flooded sandy beach habitats along the Connecticut River and similar areas along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The small area in Connecticut where this was found is now protected from human access both from the water and from land.
Cicindela rufiventris is a species commonly found in dry upland rocky and eroded areas but can also be found in areas of sparse vegetation such a trails , power lines or forest clearings. I have found populations in several areas where stones have been brought in by the local governments or power companies to help stop erosion caused by both maintenance vehicles accessing the land and all-terrain vehicle activity that can cause greater damage of a more permanent nature. Whether the stones helped keep the ground from being destroyed or just allowed a better habitat for both larvae and adults to survive, rufiventris appear to be doing well in these areas. Look for adults in July and August.
There is a small spit of tidal flooded land along the Connecticut River where the ferry comes in on the Glastonbury side where there is a large colony of Cicindela repanda can be found. These common beetles are very similar in appearance to the endangered Puritan tiger beetles. In August there are hundreds of them running along the water edges and among the rocks of this spit- the ground seems to come alive with their activity. When the tide is in, the area shrinks in size, and if you sit down on the sand, you will be surrounded by beetles rushing around. They even venture into shallow water to catch the flies that are abundant there. Take care not to step on any of these industrious, beautifully patterned creatures.
I have found the six- spotted tiger beetle, Cicindela sexguttata, year after year on the same power lines, along the same gravel roads and in the same areas bordering woodland edges. I look for them in mid to late April during warm springs, but normal activity begins in early may. Adults are readily seen through July and sometimes into August. These beetles are bright metallic green and have three white spots on each elytra. They can be found perched on logs and rocks or bare soil either in the sun or shade. Their bright color will make them easy to spot if they have landed in any open area. A slow approach is in order if you want to get close enough to take a picture or just watch them for a while. If you lost sight of it, just walk on for a while, and if nothing appears, turn around and head back to where you first saw it. Often it will have circled around gone back near where it was before.
So next spring and summer if you are out and about hiking along nature trails, power lines or dirt roads, be alert to the possibility of tiger beetles being on the hunt nearby. And don’t forget to bring your camera! I would not have had the opportunity to take any of the pictures you see here if my camera had been left at home ( or in the car! ).
Pamm Cooper All Photos Copyright 2013 Pamm Cooper