Tiger Beetle Rearing

I recently found an interesting website called Tiger Beetle Rearing.  This website by doctoral candidate Rodger Gwiazdowski in the Joseph S. Elkinton lab, University of Massachusetts, Amherst contains a wealth of information and photographs covering equipment, techniques, and methods for rearing tiger beetles from egg to adult, with a primary focus on rearing endangered and threatened species of tiger beetles for conservation and re-release into the wild.  The lab has reared a number of tiger beetle species but is particularly interested in the Puritan tiger beetle (Cicindela puritana), threatened in the northeastern U.S.  After the first year of rearing, 90 2nd and 3rd instar C. puritana larvae were obtained and, as of the last update, were overwintering in individual tubes.  You’ll need to register with the site with a username and password to access the site, but this is accomplished quickly and easily.

Welcome to the Hotel Cicindela!

Welcome to the Hotel Cicindela!

I found this website of great interest as I begin my own efforts at rearing these beetles in the laboratory.  My primary interest is in rearing larvae that I collect in the field to adulthood – adults are much more easily identified than larvae (indeed, the larvae of many species remain undescribed), and rearing field-collected larvae is one way to get around the often limited temporal occurrence that many tiger beetle species exhibit as adults.  My operation isn’t nearly as sophisticated as the one developed in the Elkinton lab, but then I’m just a working stiff trying to do this (and a million other things) on the side. Despite this, I have had my first success, rearing to adulthood a larva I collected during the summer last year (see my post It’s a girl!).  In addition, I currently have a number of larvae collected last fall in Nebraska and South Dakota, which I put in terraria of native soil and kept in a cold incubator during the winter.  I pulled them out earlier this spring, and soon afterwards a number of larvae opened up their burrows and have been feasting on fall armyworm and corn earworm caterpillars every 2-3 days or so.  The larvae were collected from a variety of habitats and soil types, including sand, alkaline seeps, and red clay banks, so I’m hopeful that the ensuing adults will represent a variety of interesting species – perhaps some that I did not encounter in the field during that trip.

Cicindela_scutellaris_rearing_P1020931_2Beyond this, however, I am also interested in trying my hand at cross-breeding experiments – particularly with Missouri’s unique population of Cicindela scutellaris (festive tiger beetle).  I’ll need to wait until fall for this, however, since adults that are active in the field right now are sexually mature and have presumably already mated.  In the fall, a new generation of sexually-immature adults will emerge and feed for a time before burrowing back in for the winter and re-emerging the following spring ready to mate.  I would like to cross individuals from southeastern Missouri – representing an intergrade between the northern subspecies lecontei and the southern subspecies unicolor – with individuals from the northern part of the state that are clearly assignable to subspecies lecontei.  If possible, I would also like to obtain individuals from even further south that are clearly assignable to subspecies unicolor and cross them with both the southern and northern Missouri populations.  These crossing experiments may provide some insight into which of the subspecies the intergrade population is more closely related to, and it will be interesting to see how closely the progeny from the lecontei x unicolor cross resemble individuals from the intergrade population and the range of variation that they exhibit.  I should mention that Matt Brust (Chadron State College, Nebraska) has done a number of these inter-subspecific crosses with C. scutellaris, with some very interesting results among the progeny.

What I can do right now is work on techniques to make sure I can get females to lay eggs and then rear the larvae all the way through to adulthood.  For this, I brought back 9-10 live individuals from two localities of the intergrade population encountered on my recent trip to the southeastern lowlands.  Adults imbibing moisture from polymer gelI put equal numbers of males and females from each locality into separate terraria – each filled with native soil and a hydrophilic polymer gel made of anionic polyacrylamide. The beetles, who normally obtain moisture from their food or by “chewing” moist soil, chew instead on the gel. This eliminates the need to maintain a water dish or cotton batting that must be changed daily in order to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria. A few of the adults in each terrarium died shortly afterwards, possibly a result of stress or dehydration during transport (the photo right shows how eagerly they imbibed moisture from the polymer gel after being placed in the terrarium), but the remainder have lived for four weeks now and have been digging burrows and feeding whenever food is offered.  According to Matt Brust, C. scutellaris does not lay eggs on the surface of the soil (as does C. celeripes), but rather lays them about 1.5 to 2 inches below the surface.  It takes 2-3 weeks before the eggs start hatching, so I am expecting to see larval burrows appearing anytime now.  Matt tells me the key to getting eggs is to feed the adults “big-time” – thus, I have been offering fat, juicy fall armyworm or corn earworm larvae to the adults whenever they are out of their burrows.  Watch this entertaining video of one adult having lunch:

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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35 thoughts on “Tiger Beetle Rearing

    • Hi Doug. I figured you’d like this post, and with your butterfly rearing expertise I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of a few tiger beetle terraria turning up in your facility.

  1. Interesting post. I don’t know how you have time for all this!

    I got a kick out of seeing the adult you are feeding ‘spin it’s wheels’ as it tries to haul the larva out of the forceps. Even the cleaning behaviour’s happen at high speed! Hyperactive beetles.

    • Thanks, Adrian. I honestly don’t know how I get it all done myself, sometimes. I think I’ve just gotten really good at punting on things that in the end I decide are not important. I’ll tell you one thing I haven’t done much of lately is specimen processing. Imagine the conundrum – do I play with tiger beetles or do I pin specimens; do I write fun blog posts or do I pin specimens; do I write manuscripts for publication or do I pin specimens? I’ve got papers published now containing data from specimens that are still sitting in their original collection vial! Aaack! As much as I love collecting, I just don’t have the typical stamp collector mentality about the collection itself – I’m more interested in the data the specimens represent.

      I have to chuckle everytime I sit and watch one of these guys – whether feeding, preening, or stealing burrows from each other, they are just plain hilarious.

    • We have a couple or three species in Missouri that would be excellent candidates for captive rearing and re-release. The problem is the habitat they require is so critically emperiled – its as much a habitat availability problem as anything else. At any rate, I’ll try to influence our state agencies that they deserve an effort.

  2. ooooh, i’m going to have to look into our local tiger beetle species. i wonder if my husband would mind sharing his desk space with a terrarium or two or three…

  3. Thanks for the acknowledgement on the breeding. I just about have it down to an art. Now I just have to figure out C. pulchra, and Steve Spomer and I have to get you to come to Nebraska and find C. celeripes here.

    • Sure thing, Matt. I need some more lessons – I do great with getting larvae I find in the field to finish out, just dangle a fall armworm larvae above their head and let them snatch it. However, I’ve had far less success with young larvae hatched from eggs in the lab. I’m trying to stick with the group rearing approach for time efficiency, but I suspect there is something wrong either with my choice of prey (small corn rootworm larvae) or my method of presenting it to them (drop the larva in the burrow and cap it over to prevent the prey from escaping). I figure once the burrow reopens they are ready to feed again, so about once a week or so I drop larvae into any burrows that I see open. Fewer and fewer burrows reopen each week, and by the end of the summer there are none. I’m almost ready to go to individual tubes of soil so I can just drop a prey in each tube and let the larva catch it on its own (should be easy since it’s a confined space). For prey, I’ve also got easy availability of aphids, other caterpillar species, and Lygus nymphs (any instar) if you think my choice of prey is wrong.

      Spomer already has me just about talked into looking for celeripes in Nebraska – I’ll be doing survey work for the species in northwest Missouri to better define its distribution there. If that goes well then it would be very tempting to jump across the river and look along the bluffs above the Platte River. With the historical accounts of cursitans in southeastern Nebraska I gotta figure it’s also in northwestern Missouri, so we’re gonna give that one a try as well.

  4. I was just hunting around to see if I could get some tiger beetles for my huge terrarium displays and found out how short a lifespan they have. It was a downer but then I realized its best to try to breed a nice supply of them and work with the larvae. Iv seen a place with tiger beetles but I am usually exremely paranoid when hanging out in nature and collecting because I am in the big city for one and crime is rampant. Its a shame but after reading this article I ha a number of questions one being about the armyworm and corn worm as in where the heck can one get those food supply sources. LOL at any rate its daunting but would be a great project for a person with the right amount of time and ease to go to the field.

      • Hello and thanks for getting back. I am not going to look for Tiger Beetle larvae at all but I was looking this summer. The weather is changing where I am. I am only going to go out again for daddy long legs opiliones, crickets and small spiders. I am near Chicago.

        • Also there was an area where I once saw Tiger Beetles like crazy mostly black colored ones with off white dots. They don’t seem to be every summer though as I went back to the area this summer 2-3 times and there was no sign of them.

        • What is it like in Boise Idaho? I have a heck of a time collecting near the big city. Its either drugs, suspicious creeps and teen fun or jogging and biking or a dog which I have but never so much nature collecting or even environmental studies. I get irritated instantly from my journeys but I usually am amazed at what I find and what I can do with certain insects and spiders. Sadly visiting the forest preserves and similar areas is actually the best of free things to do in any area and it solidly clears the mind. Its an investment in health before you see how.

          • It’s nice, most of the area is scrubland, with lots of forest up north. Lots of the surrounding areas are just farmland and fields, which I like. Lots of opportunity for collecting. I would like to explore the forests next year, I would love to find some Great grigs aka humpbacked grigs, or maybe some interesting Carabids.

            • Well I say enjoy it but believe me doing the exploring thing near the cities becomes tricky. I always say if your way out in rural areas or small towns you have the best opportunity to make a career even out of the wilderness.

  5. Hi, Ive tried a few times to raise large larvae to adulthood, but for some reason they always seem to die soon after I put them in a rearing container. A member on beetle forum directed me here, so I was hoping you could tell me how to integrate them (particularly Tetracha species) into captivity? Thanks!

  6. Hi Ted, this is very helpful. I am working on Philippine Cicindelidae and we are also planning to rear tiger beetles species in the Philippines. Just a short query, in each box can you put 2 or more males because we observed in the field cannibalism activity of this species. Or just 1 male and 1 female in each box?

    • I think it depends on the species. I would probably feel fine putting multiple males of small species together but not larger species—and keeping them well fed probably also reduces the chance of cannibalism.

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