How to identify tiger beetles

Although this amazing little insect from the Cicindelidae family is hardly known it is very likely you have seen one at some time in your life. Tiger beetles are from the Coleoptera order and are much more common than most people realize. This small beetle can be found in areas throughout the world, but the majority of the 2,000 different species are found in tropical and subtropical areas.

One of the most fascinating features of the tiger beetle species is its variety of brilliant colors. In different species, the outer bodies of this insect are shimmering green, red, blue, or orange setting a wide contrast to their solid black underparts. Other species may have dark bodies with brightly colored undersides or light-colored bodies that blend with their habitat.

To observe a tiger beetle one should take a walk along a sandy or dirt path with vegetation on either side during the morning hours when the sun is at its brightest. Keep your eyes trained about five feet in front of you on the pathway and watch for an insect that is not quite one inch long to fly away from the ground. In-flight the tiger beetle will most likely resemble a large fly and they are known to move quite rapidly.

Once the tiger beetle has landed, cautiously move toward it until you are close enough to observe this wary creature. In most cases you will be unable to get too close, so watch as you approach so you can recognize when the tiger beetle is preparing to fly.

Once you can observe this beautiful insect you will notice that their fragile-looking legs are long, holding the body well away from the dirt and aiding them to move quickly when pursuing their prey. It is wise to not attempt picking this small beetle up with your hand since the two protrusions that appear to be right below their bulging eyes are mandibles that are quite capable of giving you a fierce bite.

Tiger beetles prey on other insects and are well known for their ability to catch their prey in flight or by chasing after it. Although in most cases their diet consists of aphids, flies, various bugs, caterpillars, they are known to be quite fond of ants as well. Some species of tiger beetles that are found along coastal regions have even been observed eating tiny fiddler crabs. Once the prey has been caught, the tiger beetle will smash it against the ground until it is dead. It then sucks away at the internal juices and finishes by eating some of the outer body.

Studies suggest that the mating period of the tiger beetle can be observed around the beginning of summer. Some species of this insect are known only to live in a single year life cycle while others have a two to the three-year life cycle. When the mature males and females first emerge from hibernation they will immediately begin to mate. Males tend to guard their chosen female; even continuing to stay attached to her back for some time to discourage other males.

After mating has occurred, the female lays each of her eggs separately under a thin layer of soil. In species with a one-year life cycle, both adults will die shortly after mating. The eggs will hatch in around two weeks, with each larva immediately tunneling deeper into the ground. The larvae will remain in their tunnel throughout the winter only surfacing to catch prey and then returning to their tunnel to feed.

During this time they will get through three molts and emerge the following summer as adults. During each molt, the larvae will seal off its tunnel and move deeper into the earth before casting off its skin. It will then move back to the top of its tunnel, unsealing it to continue feeding on passing prey. With species that have longer life cycles, the larvae may remain in the larval stage for two seasons before emerging as adults in early spring.

Predators of the tiger beetle adult include dragonflies, other tiger beetles, birds, spiders and robber flies but the larvae are often preyed on by some species of parasitic wasp. In recent years several factors including the growing number of natural disasters that have wiped out their habitats has caused some species of the tiger beetle to be added to the list of endangered species.

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