Watch out! It’s a tiny predator! A tiger beetle is coming at you at a whopping 5.6 miles per hour, breezing across the ground on long-cheetah like legs, just waiting to tear you to bits with its merciless mandibles!! Quick, what do you do??! If you answered admire his undeniable good looks in the last few remaining seconds of your life, you are correct!
Certain death is assured, but we might as well find out a little about your attacker. Tiger beetles belong to the Family Carabidae (ground beetles), in the subfamily Cicindelinae. They are a cosmopolitan beetle, but have the highest diversities in the Oriental and Neotropical regions.
Believe it or not, the four specimens you see imaged here are actually color morphs of the same species! Cicindela coerulea nitida, from Mongolia. Cicindela is not only the largest genus of tiger beetles, but as diurnal predators, also contains some of those most strikingly beautiful species. I don’t know about you, but if something’s going to tear me to shreds, I want it to be gooooooood lookin’!
Those bulging eyes provide great vision and long legs combine to make tiger beetles among the fastest insect runners around. 5.6 mph might not sound like much, but that is the equivalent of a human running at about 480 miles per hour! Both adults and larvae are predatory. Larvae live in cylindrical burrows, catching prey that wander over the ground, while adults can be found living in a variety of habitats including sea and lake shores, sandy dunes, or woodland paths, though they are particularly fond of sandy surfaces. Unlike most vertebrates, tiger beetles are highly active during the hottest and sunniest part of the day, the heat giving them an extra boost in speed.
But tiger beetles aren’t just good looking and a little bit dangerous, like that guy staring at you from across the bar. They actually are very useful indicator species (species sensitive to environmental change), in ecological surveys. Insects in general make great indicator species because they are more abundant than vertebrates and are very sensitive to their environment, allowing conservationists to assess habitat quality and to locate unique habitat types. Tiger beetles are particularly useful because they have a well known taxonomy and biology, and a tendency to be specialized to a particular habitat.
Ok we are done learning, now accept your fate as the gnashing jaws descend upon you puny human!!