Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle on ARKive

I’ve been meaning to write about ARKive for awhile now. ARKive is a unique collection of videos, images and fact-files assembled from among the world’s very best wildlife videographers and photographers in an attempt to create a centralized digital library of life on Earth. Their short to mid-term priority is the completion of audio-visual profiles for the 16,300-plus species on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, before moving on to profiling all species that have ever been filmed or photographed. With backing from many of the world’s leading conservation organizations, ARKive hopes to “promote public understanding and appreciation of the world’s biodiversity and the need for its conservation, through the power of wildlife imagery.”

With tiger beetle season almost now upon us, it seems appropriate to highlight the media collection that ARKive has assembled for one of North America’s most spectacularly beautiful and critically imperiled tiger beetles, Cicindela albissima (Coral Pink Sand Dune tiger beetle). This amazing species is not only stunning in appearance, with its nearly pure white elytra, but has perhaps the most restricted habitat of any tiger beetle species in North America – the entire population being restricted to 400 hectares within coral-pink-sand-dunes_3Utah’s Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and the adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) dune management area (Pearson et al. 2006). The Google screen shot at right shows the entire range of this species as a light pink swath (inset shown on larger map of the state of Utah).  Regarded initially as a subspecies of the widespread C. limbata (sandy tiger beetle), recent molecular studies showed this beetle to be only distantly related to that species and, thus, deserving of full species status (Morgan et al. 2000).

Unfortunately, the beetle’s highly restricted habitat continues to be adversely affected by ongoing, recreational off-road vehicle use, especially in the interdunal swales used by the larvae. Impacts occur not only by direct run-over mortality, but also through disruption of normal adult and larval activity, damage to vegetation, reduction of arthropod prey of C. albissima, and mixing of the upper soil layer which increases desiccation of the larval microhabitat (Knisley and Hill 2001). The species was nominated for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1996 (when it was still considered a subspecies of C. limbata), and two years later a Conservation Agreement between BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Department of Parks and Recreation and Kane County was established in an effort to protect the critically sensitive habitats in which this species lives. Despite these conservation measures, ongoing monitoring and research within the protected areas has documented a continuing decline in the population, suggesting that these areas may not be of sufficient size to enable the population to increase, and off-road vehicle use continues outside of the protected areas (U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) 2008). While still only a candidate for federal listing as an endangered or threatened species, the FWS now considers the magnitude of the threat from off-road vehicles, in view of these recent findings, to be high and imminent. As a result, the FWS has increased the priority of the species’ candidacy from 8 to 2 (1 being the highest priority a candidate species can receive).

While I would dearly have loved to embed one of ARKive’s extraordinary videos or photographs of C. albissima within this post, copyright considerations do not allow that.  What I can do is provide hyperlinks directly to the site, and I encourage everyone to visit ARKive and see their images of this gorgeous species.

Photos by Christine Breton: adult beetle, dorsal view, adult beetle, adults mating, habitat

Videos by Ganglion Films: overview, adults mating, adult burrowing in sand, OHVs threatening protected habit.

In addition to the ARKive images, Chris Wirth, author of the blog Cicindela, has taken photographs of this species and presents stunning examples of both the larva and the adult in his post Cicindela albissima (Re-post). I myself am making plans to visit Coral Pink Sand Dunes – perhaps this season – to find and photograph this species for myself. When I succeed, rest assured those photographs will appear on this site.


Knisley, C. B., and J. M. Hill. 2001. Biology and conservation of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle, Cicindela limbata albissima Rumpp. Unpublished report.

Morgan, M., C. B. Knisley and A. Vogler. 2000. New taxonomic status of the endangered tiger beetle Cicindela limbata albissima (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae): evidence from mtDNA. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 93(5):1108-1115.

Pearson, D. L., C. B. Knisley and C. J. Kazilek. 2006. A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada. Oxford University Press, New York, 227 pp.

U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 2008. 50 CFR Part 17. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; review of native species that are candidates for listing as endangered or threatened; annual notice of findings on resubmitted petitions; annual description of progress on listing actions; proposed rule. Federal Register 73(238) (December 10, 2008):75176-75244.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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22 thoughts on “Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle on ARKive

  1. What a stunning beetle, Ted. It would be a dream to find one of these considering the circumstances and I truly hope you do.

    Some of our beaches here are now protected from off-road driving too for these reasons as well as turtles who come up to lay their eggs in the sand.

    Some of us humans are bent on destroying our world it seems. Thank goodness there are still some caring souls around to help with its protection but it seems we are in the minority. 😦

    • Hi Joan – when I set my mind to doing something, I usually end up finding a way to succeed.

      Yes, not enough of us care, but those of us who do must still fight the good fight.

  2. I know you will succeed, Ted. We are determined buggers when we set our sights on something and never give up until we have done what we set out to do – even if it takes years. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the info. I hadn’t heard of this before. I thought I might be able to submit some info for red-cockaded woodpecker, but there is already ample coverage of them. I know the ORV problem well. In these parts we also have the people who insist it is their “right” to drive their vehicles on the beaches that are home to listed shorebirds and sea turtles.

    • Yes, it’s really frustrating to see a so-obviously warranted petition for listing (total range only 400 hectares, much of it constantly battered by ORVs) languish for 13 years while monitoring documents continued declines in the population. The political implications around listing endangered species almost seem to prevent that from happening until the species is on the brink of extinction – exactly what the Endangered Species Act was intended to prevent. The Conservation Agreement that was put in place in 1998 was a BIG step in the right direction, but clearly that has proven to be not enough. We’ll see if the priority change by FWS from 8 to 2 might succeed in finally getting this species listed.

  4. Thanks for an enlightening post – I would love to see this beetle one day. I agree we should do so much more. I also believe we must strike a balance at times. I would be enthralled for example if some rare or threatened species were discovered on my tiny acreage, and I’m sure I would do all I could to protect it.

    And yet if I was told I could no longer use the land that has been in family for two decades it would give me pause for thought. Some of my neighbors’ land has been in their family for over a hundred years. A mere moment in earth time perhaps, but the human history is tremendous.

    One thing I know – we must work towards greater education, here in the U.S. and especially abroad. I remember witnessing so much catastrophic destruction of rain forest and other lands throughout the world – it was like a marriage of 21st century technology with people just entering the industrial revolution…

    • Hi Beau – landowner rights are certainly a major consideration in any conservation program. The best conservation programs find ways to engage the landowner while striving for protection. There are both federal and state programs that seek to do just that. Forcing landowners to do/not do something without letting them be part of the process is counterproductive in the long run.

      In the case of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle, landowner concerns are not an issue, as the entire range of the beetle (minuscule as it is) lies on state and federal lands. Still, achieving cooperation between multiple agencies can be a challenge. In this regard, the Conservation Agreement signed in 1998 was truly remarkable, since it required cooperation among four state and federal agencies. This kind of cooperative effort may be a great model for further conservation efforts – not just with this species but others as well.

      As always, thanks so much for your interest.

  5. Pingback: Cicindela albissima habitat « cicindela

  6. Pingback: Coral Pink San Dunes | Photoblog 2.0

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  8. I have a little different opinion to offer here. I have spent a substantial amount of time at the Coral Pinks starting with some of my earliest memories over 30 years ago. The OHV useage of the park should be taken into consideration, but I feel that the endangered number of beetles is due more to the climate than OHV’s.
    Since management closed down a large part of the northern end of the dunes to help protect the beetle, the numbers haven’t improved. The vegetation is thicker than I can ever recall, but the beetles are still endangered. Could it be that the current 15 year drought is more at fault? Especially since the last 7 years have been critically low water levels? I feel this is much more at fault than the OHV usage.

    • Hi atvrules1 – thanks for your perspective. A direct correlation between adult numbers and rainfall amount the previous year does exist for this beetle. However, to suggest that weather alone is responsible for the species’ predicament is inconsistent with the large amount of observational data that have been collected for this species since it was discovered more than 20 years ago. The primary threat to its existence is its vastly restricted geographical range, which at only 400 hectares is probably the smallest range of any tiger beetle species in all of North America. Within that range, the primary habitat is not the more heavily vegetated and stabilized dunes to the north or the highly dynamic south end of the dune field, but rather the transitional zone between these two areas. OHV runover trials and observational data have demonstrated that adult beetles are killed by OHV’s. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that additional impacts such as the disruption of normal adult and larval activity, damage to vegetation, reduction of arthropod prey, and a mixing of the upper soil layer which increases desiccation of the larval microhabitat also have impacted the current distribution of the beetle.

      Obviously, there are many stakeholders with an interest in the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, and differences of opinion are inevitable. I believe that a cooperative approach that includes input from all sides but remains firmly science-based offers the best hope for saving this beautiful and critically endangered beetle without unnecessarily curbing other legitimate uses of the land.

  9. Hi Ted, I do appreciate your comments and clarification. Its just hard to see more and more restrictions placed on OHV use, so I have to grumble just a little. (grin)

    It is a hard subject to find a viable plan for the beetles, and I feel it will become even more of a struggle for them especially since people moving into the area are starting to buy property just to the northeast of the dunes. I fear this will just increase traffic to the area and ultimately use of the dunes.

    I do hope a solution can be found that will help the beetles as well as keep this remarkable recreational area open for OHV use.

  10. I just discovered this site and am pleased at the interest in the Coral Pink Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle. Let me make a few comments since I have studied this beetle since 1992 and am responsible for most of what is known about it. Most of the comments above are generally accurate, but it is not the case that OHV activity is responsible for the low numbers and current status of this beetle. It has existed at these dunes for many years and co-occurred with OHVs during much of this time, enduring many vagaries of climate change, including droughts which have a major impact on the species as it does for most desert insects. In fact, it is my conclusion based on studies in the past 15 years that rainfall (not OHVs) is the primary factor driving beetle abundance within the dune field. There are so many direct and indirect effects of rainfalll on the beetle and its habitat, food supply, etc. that this has not been proven. We have found that despite the Conservation Agreement that protected most of the core habitat, numbers have generally declined in the past 5 years or so, coincidental with reduced rainfall. Various studies I have done confirm how increased soil moisture increases ovipositon and larval survival, etc. It is true that OHVs have direct and indirect negative impact on this species as suggested above, and this impact is occurring within some of the dune areas adjacent to the protected core. It is uncertain how much the beetle would benefit from expanding the protection area, but the limited range of this species within the dunefield is related to dune physiography and other dune characteristics, not only levels of OHV use. Clearly the Conservation Agreement was a successful compromise balancing recreational use of the dunes and protection for beetles. It was also a way to provide a protected area for photographers, nature lovers, beach walkers and others to enjoy the dunes in various ways without fear of OHV interference. I encountered considerable hostility from the OHV riders in the development and early implementation of the Conservation Agreement, but others were upset that the whole dune was not kept free from OHVs. FWS continues to evaluate the beetles status and will be considering (based on continuing research) if additional steps are needed to insure its survival and protection.

  11. Pingback: Cicindela albissima—The Coral Pink Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle « Beetles In The Bush


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