The tiger beetle is prized for both its beauty and its voracious appetite for many common pests around the garden or farm. In North America, there are well more than 100 tiger beetle species found from coast to coast. Some are extremely localized, while others, like one of my favorites, the six spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela sexguttata), adapt to generalized environments and can be found across wide swaths of the United States.
A Hard Target
Closely related to ground beetles, tiger beetles are easy to identify by their characteristic behavior and sleek looks. Even though less than an inch long, this creature has a notorious reputation as a fierce carnivore, with sickle-like jaws that it uses to hunt and devour its prey. Its head is much larger than its narrow thorax and has bulging eyes, and the body is held off the ground with long, spindly legs.
Tiger beetle species range in color from simple earth tone camouflages to stunning iridescent shades. The six spotted tiger beetle, for example, is covered head to toe in a brilliant metallic green and features five to 10 white spots on the back end of its elytra (wing covers). The green color blends in with vegetation, while the metallic sheen can confuse potential predators.
Tiger beetles exhibit a unique flighty, or wary, behavior. When approached, they’ll escape quickly, either by sprinting away on their long legs or taking a short low flight. This elusiveness is a cue for identifying the insect and gives it a good degree of protection from native predators, including birds, dragonflies, robber flies and lizards.
License To … Eat
The tiger beetle’s natural aggression allows it to capture prey bigger than itself. Adult beetles hunt a wide range of prey, including ants, grasshopper larva, other beetles, caterpillars, mosquitoes and pest flies. The sedentary larva of the tiger beetle also get in on the action, laying wait for unwary prey from their underground burrows.
If you happen to see a tiger beetle hanging around your crops, leave the insect to do the dirty work of pest cleanup so you don’t have to.