NATURE NOTES – FLYING TIGERS

cicindela oregona 2

— entomologist Cynthia Brast-Bormann

Hiking the beach bluffs above Deadman Bay on a sunny day, you may encounter a tiger along the trail. Not the man-eating kind, but the six-legged, flying Western Tiger Beetle (Cicindela oregona). This blue-green, iridescent, medium-sized beetle might be mistaken for a beautiful piece of beach glass at first glance, but in fact, it is a swift and fierce predator. cicindela oregona

Extra-long legs and a cylindrical body shape give this beetle the ability to run and fly quickly. Cruising the sand with a run-stop run or staccato-like hunting pattern, the tiger beetle preys on a variety of invertebrates including flies, other beetles, leafhoppers, ants, caterpillars, and spiders. Tiger beetles are so fast that scientists have studied how they are able to see when they are maneuvering so quickly.

Even though tiger beetles have bulging eyes and hunt by day, this isn’t enough to compensate when you’re running so fast that everything is blurry.  Researchers have found that when tiger beetles chase prey at such high speeds, their vision blurs to the point they become temporarily blind. To ‘see,’ tiger beetles hold their antennae rigid and directly in front of them.  In this position, the antennae are mechanosensors, enabling the speeding tiger beetle to detect and avoid colliding with obstacles in the environment.

tiger beetle larvaTiger beetles’ sickle-shaped jaws also aid in capturing prey. Even their larval offspring have these fierce jaws. Living in vertical tunnels in the soil, with special hook-like structures to anchor them in place, they lie in wait to ‘pounce’ on unsuspecting arthropods.

If your hike takes you out on a ‘tiger’ hunt, good luck getting one to linger for a photo. They will easily outrun you!

References:

Cornell University. (2014, February 11). Blinded by speed, tiger beetles use antennae to ‘see’ while running. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 28, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140211113704.htm

Zurek, D. B., C. Gilbert. Static antennae act as locomotory guides that compensate for visual motion blur in a diurnal, keen-eyed predatorProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2014; 281 (1779): 20133072 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.3072

Bottom photo: Tiger Beetle Larva in its Lair Photo by M.J. Raupp (The Bug Guy)