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A tiger-beetle-y day in the Wildcat Hills

March 15, 2012

Bugman and I tromped around the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area for a few sunny hours on Saturday. The weather turned out to be perfect for tiger beetle sightings.

Several species of these colorful, charismatic critters tend to hang out in disturbed areas like hiking trails and cattle paths. It’s hard to get close to the insects without a lot of slow-stalking patience. They have the big, all-the-better-to-see-you-with-my-dear eyes of a predator that eats anything it can catch, and they’re pretty flighty. In fact, tiger beetles can move so fast, their neural circuitry apparently can’t keep up with the image of the scenery flying by, and they go momentarily blind.

According to a website put together by the University of Nebraska – Kearney and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the species of tiger beetle we spotted (identified by Mathew Brust via photos posted to Facebook from in the field) “become active shortly after snowmelt and are often gone before June.” The insects spend one to three years underground as predatory larva before emerging in the fall, going back underground in the winter, and coming out again in early spring to zip around eating and mating before they die.

Bugman and I spent a not insignificant amount of time on Saturday easing forward in a slow crouch or flat-out belly-to-the-ground with our cameras extended in front of us to catch three species on camera: cow path tiger beetle (Cicindela purpurea), splendid tiger beetle (Cicindela splendida) and green claybank tiger beetle (Cicindela denverensis).

Bugman attempted to catch a tiger beetle bare-handed - and failed.

They are much easier to capture on camera

Cow path tiger beetle

black form

green form

Splendid tiger beetle

Green claybank tiger beetle

The angle of the sun changed the emerald green claybank tiger beetles to turquoise.

Sun behind the photographer

Photographer facing into the sun

My favorite insect sighting of the day was of a brilliant sapphire-hued green claybank tiger beetle. No matter which way the sun angled, this guy was just screamingly blue.

By deploying his baseball cap, Bugman did capture the sapphire beetle and examine it up close before letting it go.

Bugman handled the tiger beetle very carefully. Like mammalian tigers, these invertebrate tigers can deliver a painful bite.

If you’re out hiking in the next several weeks, keep an eye out for colorful tiger beetles.

Copyright 2012 by Katie Bradshaw

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2012 9:10 am

    I always wondered what those were!

  2. March 28, 2012 7:54 am

    Great story Katie! After reading it last Sunday I went out and found both the Splendid and the Common Clay Bank Tiger beetles on the bank of a road ditch several hundred yards from my house in Gage county. Thanks for the information.

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      March 28, 2012 7:55 pm

      I’m glad you found the information helpful, Dave. I’m lucky to have direct access to information about insects by virtue of being married to an entomologist.

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