Tiger Beetles Tiny Terrors

Imagine yourself relaxing in the glistening, hot sun on a beach in South Africa, when suddenly you feel the painful pinch of an insect bite. Looking down you see a ferocious, 2 inch metallic bronze beetle with bulging eyes, a hairy face, long skinny legs, and a huge protruding hook-like jaw. You have just been introduced to the tiger beetle. But don’t step on it, because it is on the endangered species list in many places.

The tiger beetle got its name due to the brutal way it catches and consumes its prey. He is a fluid feeder, who uses pre-oral digestion. When he clutches and crushes an insect in its powerful mandibles, digestive juices are secreted onto the prey. While squeezing, he sucks in the partially digested meal. Because he has excellent eyesight, and is a fast, agile flyer, he sometimes catches his victim in mid air. He has been recorded running at 2 feet per second. The caterpillar-like larvae, just as fierce, lay in wait near the entrance of their burrows, and snatch helpless insects dragging them to the bottom of a long tunnel for consumption.

The male approaches the female in a series of sprints, then jumps on her back and clasps her thorax with his mighty mandibles. He’s the jealous type, and may guard his female for up to 12 hours after copulation to stop other males from mating with her. Females lay their eggs in small holes in the dirt or sand. During metamorphosis the egg changes into a worm-like larva, which dig a vertical tube several feet deep. The larva eats everything that crosses its path for up to 2 years. After moving through the pupa stage, the adult beetle emerges in the summer.

The 2,000 species of tiger beetles (Cinindelidae) come in almost any color ranging from the bright red, daytime active bugs to the jet-black, nocturnal creatures. Many of them sport an iridescent or metallic body with armor-like wings. The “plain Jane” species looks eerily like a common beetle with a grayish brown body and white spots on its wings. However, the tiger beetle has a wider head than his cousin the ordinary beetle.

A tiger beetle’s lifestyle is regulated by temperature, humidity, light intensity, and wind. They remain inactive on cool cloudy days. They prefer hot sunny days on the sandy shores of a tropical ocean, or wooded rivers and streams. In fact, they live just about everywhere in the world except on some remote islands, Antarctica and Tasmania.

The Tiger Beetle has many enemies. Beetles are a main staple in the diet of many species of birds. Larger insects like dragonflies often munch on the crunchy beetle. Amphibians and reptiles have also been known to feed on these beetles. Surprisingly, even mammals like badger, fox, moles, mice, opossum, raccoon, skunk, and squirrel consider tiger beetles a tasty delicacy. Of course, humans too have developed insecticides to kill insects like the tiger beetle. So, how can a poor bug survive? When in pursuit, the beetle runs in a zigzag pattern, and gives off an unpleasant smell. Adult tiger beetles also exude a foul smelling, brownish liquid when captured, which has corrosive properties. They have been seen crawling into crevices to escape from danger.

Tiger beetles, which live on beaches, are under great pressure from intruding developments and reckless vacationers. Remember that the beach you are enjoying may be some beetle’s living room, so tread softly and treat it with respect.