The ubiquitous tiger beetle

Cicindela ubiquita

Cicindela ubiquita - ubiquitous tiger beetle

Back in early June as I began my exploration of The Nature Conservancy’s Four Canyon Preserve in northwestern Oklahoma, one of the very first insect species that I encountered was Cicindela ubiquita¹ (the ubiquitous tiger beetle).  This ubiquitous species is restricted to nearly the entire North American continent and is found only in just about any habitat you can imagine.  It seems to especially favor wet or dry areas in lowland or upland habitats with little or lots of vegetation.  At Four Canyon Preserve, it showed a distinct preference for dry upland sand and clay sites and wet bottomland sand sites.  I did not find it in wet bottomland clay sites – probably because no such habitat exists within the preserve.

¹ Originally described as Cicindela punctulata (punctured tiger beetle) by Olivier (1790).  This name has been accepted by virtually all subsequent authors and is still used in such recent works as Freitag (1999), Pearson et al. (2006), and Erwin and Pearson (2008).

IMG_0371_1200x800I had seen this species previously in Missouri on just about every collecting trip I’ve ever taken within that state.  Populations in Missouri seem to look exactly like the population here at Four Canyon Preserve but favor other habitats, including lawns, soybean fields, any dirt road, gravel parking lots, and cement sidewalks (although I have so far failed to find larval burrows in the latter, suggesting a greater level of habitat selectivity during the larval stage).  Based on examination of specimens in both my collection and that of the Enns Entomology Museum at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I can’t seem to find any county in Missouri where this beetle does not occur.

IMG_0372_1200x800An interesting feature of this species is that its adult activity period seems to exclude the winter months.  Thus far, I have only succeeded in finding active adults during those months when temperatures routinely surpass the freezing point (April through November).  It also apparently has been unable to colonize the Pacific Coast of North America – the reasons for this extreme selectivity will remain unclear until further research can be done.

Despite the common usage of the name Cicindela punctulata for this species, the following quotes are offered to support my contention that the valid name of this species should be Cicindela ubiquita:

The ubiquitous Cicindela (Cicindelidia) punctulata battling ants. — somatochlora.

This species and C. repanda are the most common and ubiquitous in the state. — Graves (1963).

C. punctulata punculata is almost ubiquitous in Colorado. — J. P. Schmidt

Notes: Abundant statewide; ubiquitous… — Mike Reese

this same pond were the ubiquitous C. repanda Dejean and C. punctulata Olivier. — Charlton and Kopper (2000).

Photo details: Canon 100mm macro lens on Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/16, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power through diffuser caps.


Charlton, R. E. and B. J. Kopper.  2000.  An unexpected range extension for Cicindela trifasciata F. (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Cicindelinae).  The Coleopterists Bulletin 54(2):266-268.

Erwin, T. L. and D. L. Pearson. 2008. A Treatise on the Western Hemisphere Caraboidea (Coleoptera). Their classification, distributions, and ways of life. Volume II (Carabidae-Nebriiformes 2-Cicindelitae). Pensoft Series Faunistica 84. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, 400 pp.

Freitag, R.  1999.  Catalogue of the tiger beetles of Canada and the United States.  National Research Council Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, 195 pp.

Graves, R. C.  1963.  The Cicindelidae of Michigan (Coleoptera).  American Midland Naturalist 69(2):492-507.

Olivier, G. A.  1790.  Entomologie ou histoire naturelle des insectos.  Paris, 2, 1-32.

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.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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23 thoughts on “The ubiquitous tiger beetle

  1. I had the pleasure of seeing and photographing the metallic green form in southeast Arizona last month. I should get my act together and get the rest of that trip up as a blog post. As always, your tiger photos are superb.

    • Thanks, Doug. You’re AZ trip isn’t nearly as late as these photos are.

      Subspecies chihuahuae is a pretty one – that’s one thing that can be said for this species. Not like the “other Cicindela ubiquita“, C. repanda which shows no geographically-based variability anywhere across its vast range.

    • Hi maggie – there are 100+ species of tiger beetles in the U.S., with 2 dozen species right here in Missouri. They’re not ‘ubiquitous’ (snicker), but in the right habitat they can be found in numbers.

    • Thanks, Shelly. I’d try the sidewalk leading up to your front door. If that doesn’t work, look in the lawn next to the sidewalk. If that still doesn’t work, you might try the gravel/dirt road near your house… 🙂

  2. Hi Ted

    Most of the tiger beetles you have illustrated over the past several months are pretty much the same as regards size, shape and colour. Therefore, these beetles must be pretty closely related (most are Cicindela in any case) yet the ubiquitous species described above has a great distribution, yet the others are mostly rare and localized. This seems to be a feature in most beetle genera which there are several species or more. My question is why do some species become more common and widespread than others, even though they may be the same size, colour and presumably have the same physiology? Maybe its due to fertility in terms of numbers of eggs laid. Maybe its evolution and a common species gave rise to many others that formed smaller populations and then became species through isolation. But why did these become isolated and not the main population of C. ubiquita? Why did these other species/populations remain isolated and small? These are intriguing questions and I dont think there is just one answer to these problems. As regards the failure of C. ubiquita to colonize the coastal eastern USA, have humans displaced it or were there no original records of the species from there? Were/are there competition effects there from other species?

    A few years back I thought everything was known about the Coleoptera of the USA, but now I see theres an enormous number of subjects/topics still to be studied. I was also amazed to read that there are mountains in California that havent yet been explored entomologically! (Recently I heard about a new amphibian genus from the USA – the first in 50 years – incredible!) But why is everyone going to South America then? I suppose it is more exotic but probably more dangerous! Like me in Papua New Guinea – great for insects but not great for entomologists – malaria!

    This is a wondeful blog. Its great to finally see entomologists getting into photography, as in the past they seemed everywhere (but maybe not USA that much) to treat photography as a disease to be avoided! The colour photographs of living insects “put you there” immediately and the literature becomes easier to understand I think!

    Keep up the great work! Best regards, Trevor

    • Hi Trevor,

      The incompleteness of our knowledge about beetles (and other insects as well) is related to the pattern of settlement in the US – eastern species were well studied for many years by an established entomological community, who then immediately rushed out to the hyper-diverse western and southwestern US, leaving a vast, relatively ignored interior. I truly enjoy studying beetles here in the US just as much as when I get the chance to go to Mexico or South Africa – knowledge is knowledge, no matter where you gain it.

      Many thanks for your encouraging praise – and just to make sure you know, C. ubiquita is a farcical name that I made up for C. punctulata because of its ubiquity. It was simply a fun way to share my photos of a very common and widespread species.

  3. Hi Ted

    Well I guess that soon a lot of entomological mysteries of the central American (USA) area will be solved by keen scientsts such as yourself.

    I look forward to new stories, especially about Cerambycidae and Buprestidae of the USA.

    Best regards, Trevor

  4. Hi Ted

    Did you just create a nomun nudum?

    In my discussion above, please substitute C. punctulata for C. ubiquita! (doh)

    Best regards, Trevor

    PS. C. punctulata looks very much like C. semicincta from Australia

    • Thanks, Beau. I haven’t looked at the original description, but almost surely the species name is a reference to the longitudinal row of punctures on each elytron. Incidentally, there are several other species that also exhibit punctures like that (all closely related and placed in the subgenus Cicindelidia) – but this was probably the only one that Olivier had seen when he named it.

  5. Pingback: Miscellaneous Mayslake Insects « Nature Inquiries


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