tiger beetle
Faster than the eye can see!
With their eye-catching iridescent colors and bold markings, tiger beetles have long been targets for collectors. However, capturing these beautiful animals can be a challenge, as they can run faster than any other known insect. Some species have been clocked at over five miles per hour, which may not seem blisteringly fast, but in terms of body size, this makes them almost ten times faster than Olympic sprinters.

tiger beetleTiger beetles make use of this astonishing speed for hunting, easily outrunning the small arthropods on which they feed. While hunting, tiger beetles have a distinctive habit of running in short bursts and then pausing. This is because they run so fast they go blind! The pauses allow them to re-focus their large eyes on their prey, which they grab in their razor-sharp, sickle-shaped mandibles after the final sprint.

The beetles' caterpillar-like larvae are also predators, but use stealth rather than speed. They hunt from a narrow tunnel dug into bare soil, snatching any hapless insect within grasp. Sharp hooks on the larvae's backs anchor them in the burrows so struggling prey can't drag them out.

tiger beetleThere are more than 2,600 species of tiger beetles worldwide. North America has a little over a hundred species, with diversity highest in the southwest and southern plains. Tiger beetles are found across the continent in a wide variety of habitats, from river banks to mountain tops and sand dunes to forest floors. Six species or subspecies are listed as endangered, threatened, or candidates under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but at least thirty more are considered to be imperiled. Not surprisingly, the Xerces Society is working to protect some of the most threatened, including the Salt Creek tiger beetle and the Siuslaw hairy-necked tiger beetle.

Since 2003, we have advocated for protection of the Salt Creek tiger beetle (Cicindela nevadica lincolniana), which is found only in salt marshes in Nebraska. More than 90% of this beetle's habitat has been destroyed or severely degraded, to the point that only a few hundred beetles remain. Despite its listing as an endangered species under federal law in 2005, the habitat of the Salt Creek tiger beetle still lacks adequate protection. In 2007 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated 1,933 acres as critical habitat. This was contrary to the findings of a panel of scientific experts, which concluded that over 36,000 acres are needed to secure the beetle's future. In February of this year, the Society filed a lawsuit against the USFWS demanding that more habitat be protected. Just two weeks ago, the Xerces Society and partners reached a settlement agreement with the USFWS, and the USFWS will now consider expanding the area designated for critical habitat.

For the past two years, we have conducted field surveys to understand the conservation status and life history of the Siuslaw hairy-necked tiger beetle (Cicindela hirticollis siuslawensis). This rare denizen of the Pacific Coast lives beside estuaries and once ranged from northern California to northern Washington. It is now relegated to a few isolated pockets on the southern Oregon and southern Washington coasts. These pockets are in areas where off-road vehicles and other recreational uses are restricted thanks to the presence of the threatened western snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus). Possibly a prime example of "piggy-back conservation," this tiger beetle may be inadvertently safeguarded by the protection of another species.

tiger beetleFor more information about these cool creatures, read the article "Six-Legged Tigers," by David L. Pearson, published in the most recent issue of our member magazine, Wings.
1971 - 2011: Forty Years of Conservation
The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. The Society has been at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide for forty years, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.

To learn more about our work, please visit www.xerces.org.


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Banner Image:
Siuslaw hairy-necked tiger beetle (Cicindela hirticollis siuslawensis), by Sarina Jepsen

In-text Images:
Cow path tiger beetle (Cincindela purpurea), big sand tiger beetle (Cincindela formosa), and six-spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) by Bryan E. Reynolds

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