Tiger Beetle Bonanza

BIObus is always on the lookout for Tiger Beetles. These fascinating creatures can easily be overlooked as they scramble along sandy beaches, dirt trails or muddy shorelines. Unlike other ground insects, Tiger Beetles typically run for a quick, short burst, pause for a moment, then run for another short burst. Most will readily take to the wing when you approach, fly 6 to 10 feet, then tumble somewhat awkwardly to the ground.

Getting them into your net is difficult, but it’s even trickier to transfer them from net to jar. Photographing them…that’s still more of a challenge. It often takes 20 minutes of stalking one individual beetle, following it to its next landing point (again and again, crawling on all fours in the mud or sand), before it allows you into a closer comfort zone. Like many insects, Tiger Beetles eventually seem to sense that you’re not a threat and tolerate your presence for a little while. Or…maybe they just tire of the cat and mouse game and appease the persistent paparazzo to get rid of him.

Portrait of a White-striped Tiger Beetle

There are about 100 species of Tiger Beetle known in North America, and each one seems to have carved its own special niche into the geography and ecosystem. Most species eat ants and other small insects, crushing them with their over-sized mandibles and mashing them into a consumable paste.

Ocellated Tiger Beetle at Palo Duro State Park, TX

In east Texas, at Caddo Lake State Park, we encountered two nocturnal species of large Tiger Beetles (Tetracha carolina and T. virginica). They ran at incredible speed in a wild, random pattern when disturbed. We found several species of Tiger Beetle at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Texas panhandle. I’m not an expert, but they appear to include the Black Sky Tiger Beetle Cicindela nigrocoerulea, the Rio Grande Tiger Beetle C. sperata and the Ocellated Tiger Beetle C. ocellata.

White-striped Tiger Beetles mating at Dead Horse Ranch, AZ

At Dead Horse Ranch State Park, in Cottonwood, Arizona, numerous tiny Tigers were drawn to our UV lights. They turned out to be the White-striped Tiger Beetle C. lemniscata. Small, but very handsome carnivores, I think.

Mono Lake Tufa State National Refuge, near Yosemite National Park, in California, is home to several species of interesting Tiger Beetles. I regret not even attempting to photograph them, but there’s only so much time in the day. I hope we can return to the Mono Basin area next year!

-Jay Cossey