Tiger Beetles (family Cicindelidae) are a fiercely named group of beetles, as both the larvae and adults are extremely predatory. While many beetles are rather slow and lumbering, Tiger beetles are fast runners with large eyes and oversized menacing mandibles that they use to catch and kill prey. The fastest species (Rivacindela hudsoni, which is not found in Ontario) can run at a speed of 9 km/h, which is around 125 body lengths per second. In Ontario, we have 14 species, of which at least half have been recorded in Norfolk County. Of course some species are common, while others are quite rare, and they occur in a variety of habitats.
It’s possible you haven’t paid much attention to this group, but there is a good chance you have seen them before. The Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) is a common species found along forest paths. If you have ever been hiking on a wooded trail in spring and saw a shiny green insect take off ahead of you it was probably this species. If you watch where it lands, scan the ground or low vegetation (binoculars help) and you’ll notice a metallic green jewel on stilts, pale spotting, two giant eyes, and jaws bigger than its head. This is one of our more ubiquitous species.
Several species prefer a more open habitat with sandy soils, something Norfolk is famous for. If you happen to find yourself in an open sandy barren you may encounter the large Beautiful Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa), the slightly smaller Bronzed Tiger Beetle (Cicindela repanda), the purplish Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris), the small and dark Backroads Tiger Beetle (Cicindela punctulata), or the pale and rare Ghost Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera lepida). Although some species prefer heavier soils, sand makes a good substrate for the burrowing larvae which live in cylindrical burrows from which they ambush passing prey.
The Ghost Tiger Beetle is sometimes called the Little White Tiger Beetle and it is a bit of a rarity and specialty of Norfolk County. It has a subnational conservation rank of S2 which means it is at high risk of extirpation (local extinction) due to its restricted range and few populations in the province. Luckily in Norfolk County they exist in part on protected lands that are being managed for open sand barren habitats. Due to their small size and colouration they are much more difficult to spot on the sand than their larger darker cousins. They are perfectly camouflaged against the sand, and unless you happen to see them move they are difficult to spot. In fact, when they fly, it’s often the darker shadow they cast that you might notice and helps give away their presence.
The next time you are walking down a path, at the beach, or exploring a sand barren, take a look around you. You might find yourself surrounded by a bunch of Tigers!
Adam Timpf – LPBLT Director and Chair, Land Acquisition Committee