Isn’t she splendid?!

Cicindela splendida | Bald Hill Glade Natural Area, Ripley Co., Missouri

This gorgeous female Cicindela splendida emerged recently from one of my rearing containers.  She was one of several 3rd instar larvae that I collected this past June from their burrows in a dolomite glade in southeastern Missouri.  I had suspected they might represent this species because of the bright, metallic sheen on their heads and decided to rear them out to find out for sure.  Rearing tiger beetles is fun and easy—all you have to do is fill a container with native soil, make a “starter” burrow¹ and drop them in. In this case, I also partially sunk a native rock into the soil in the center of the container, something I have started doing recently as it gives the emerged adult an elevated and more visually appealing surface on which to perch than the soil should I desire to take photographs.

¹ Larvae will dig new burrows on their own, but starter burrows allow you to place the burrow where you want it.  They are essential if more than one larva is introduced to the container, as wandering larvae will fight when they encounter each other. I like to start the burrow in a corner of the container (a pencil works great for this) and push down to the bottom of the container so I can see into the burrow from outside to monitor the larva as it develops.  After introducing the larva to its burrow, I push the soil around the entrance to seal it lightly to keep the larva from immediately crawling back out.  The larva will eventually reopen the burrow but generally accepts it, digging it out further to its liking and shaping the entrance to precisely fit the size and shape of its head.

Reared from 3rd instar larva, burrow in sparsely vegetated clay exposure of dolomite glade.

With tiger beetle rearing, feeding time is fun time! Our lab rears insects for testing in abundance, and there are always leftovers. Really just about any insect that can be pulled into the burrow will be acceptable as prey, but lepidopteran caterpillars are my favorite. I use mostly early instar tobacco hornworm larvae, choosing the size as appropriate for the size of the tiger beetle larva—the big ones (e.g. 3rd instar Tetracha) can handle caterpillars 35-40 mm in length and 6-8 mm in diameter, while neonates must be used for the smallest ones (e.g. 1st instar Cylindera celeripes and C. cursitans). I find it endlessly entertaining to sneak up on the larva sitting at the entrance of its burrow, slowly position a caterpillar above the burrow entrance with forceps, and dangle it to entice the tiger beetle larva to lurch out, grab the caterpillar, and drag it down into its burrow—all in a split second! If the larva drops down from the burrow entrance during my approach I just drop the caterpillar into the burrow (though this isn’t nearly as much fun).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

ID Challenge #13 results and Session #4 final standings

Points have been tallied for ID Challenge #13 and its addendum.  Congratulations to Mr. Phidippus, who’s 16 pts edged out Roy (14 pts) and Ben Coulter (13 pts) for the win in IDC13.  Ben Coulter, however, stayed comfortably atop the overall standings in the final challenge of this 4th BitB Challenge Session, earning 78 pts along the way and thus reclaiming his overall championship.  Congratulations to him and also to Mr. Phidippus and Roy, who finish on the 2nd and 3rd steps of the overall podium.  An honorable mention goes to Tim Eisele, who was the only other participant besides our three podium finishers to score points in all six Session #4 challenges.

Complete standings are shown below, and Mr. Coulter, I owe you some loot!

Place Commentor IDC#10 SSC#8 SSC#9 IDC#11 IDC#12 IDC#13 Total
1 Ben Coulter 14 8 13 14 16 13 78
2 Mr. Phidippus 10 8 8 13 15 16 70
3 Roy 8 9 6 5 11 14 53
4 Tim Eisele 5 1 5 5 7 10 33
5 George Sims 2       12 7 21
6 Tracy Morman 3       15   18
  Morgan Jackson   11 7       18
8 Doug Taron         17   17
  Jon Q 4       7 6 17
10 Mike Baker     4 3 6 3 16
11 HBG Dave   9   2   4 15
12 Dave Hubble 12         2 14
13 Troy Bartlett   6   7     13
14 FlaPack 10           10
  Charley Eiseman 4         6 10
16 Matt Brust 9           9
  Bill Meyers         9   9
18 James Trager        6   2 8
19 Crystal Ernst 1     6     7
  itsybitsybeetle         7   7
21 Alex Wild       6     6
  Lee Jaszlics       6     6
23 Traci 5           5
  Laurie Knight   1     4   5
25 Adrian Thysse         4   4
26           2 2
27 Johnson Sau       1     1

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

St. Anthony Dune Tiger Beetle

Sand dune habitat for Cicindela arenicola | vic. Idaho Falls, Idaho

After kicking off the 2011 fall tiger beetle trip by finding Cicindela formosa gibsoni and C. scutellaris yampae in the Yampa Valley sand dunes in northwestern Colorado, I was even more optimistic about my chances of seeing the main goals of the trip—the four C. maritima species group endemics that inhabit sand dunes in Idaho (St. Anthony Dune Tiger Beetle—C. arenicola, and Bruneau Dune Tiger Beetle—C. waynei), Utah (Coral Pink Sand Dune Tiger Beetle—C. albissima), and Colorado (Colorado Dune Tiger Beetle—C. theatina).  Each of these closely related species is restricted to a single sand dune system in their respective states, resulting in small populations that are especially vulnerable to drought and threats to their required habitats (primarily invasive plants and offroad recreational vehicles).  Cicindela arenicola, described from the St. Anthony Dune system of southeastern Idaho (Rumpp 1967) was our first target, and while the drive through the Snake River Valley—aspen and maple in blazing full color—was stunningly beautiful, all I could think about during the 6-hour drive was the rising temperatures outside and the tendency of these sand dune tiger beetles to dig in if it gets too hot.  I had information about several localities along the St. Anthony Dune system, and by the time we arrived at the first of these it was already early afternoon.

Cicindela arenicola adult burrows

Walking onto the dunes at a locality near Idaho Falls, it didn’t take long to find the unmistakable signature of adult activity—burrows.  Many insects (especially bees) and even non-insects (spiders, solifugids, etc.) that live on sand dunes create burrows that can look similar to those created by adult tiger beetles.  However, after years of experience I can almost tell at a glance whether a burrow has been created by a tiger beetle versus some other arthropod by the size and shape of the opening and appearance of the diggings.  When there is doubt, a little bit of excavating with a knife gives further clues in the shape of the tunnel—flatter than most other diggers and angling almost horizontally back into the sand before taking a dive a few inches back.  Wind quickly obliterates evidence of the burrow entrance and pile of diggings, so when these are present and fresh-looking the beetles have either just dug in or just dug out.  I excavated a number of burrows that turned out to be empty, suggesting the beetles were out and about if only I could find them.  And find them I did, mostly along the sloping, south-facing dune face above the flatter sand plain below.  They were as beautiful as I imagined they would be—bold, white markings, screaming green and copper highlights on the head and pronotum, and a dense covering of white hairs on the sides and undersurface.  They were also extremely active and wary, so much so that I didn’t even attempt to photograph them for the time being despite the decent number of individuals that we saw at the site.

Cicindela arenicola adult excavating burrow (click for better view of beetle just inside burrow entrance)

Cicindela arenicola in completed adult burrow | September 2011 | Idaho Falls, Idaho

There were other nearby sites that I had planned to check also, but with good numbers seen already and several other interesting insects (e.g., Crossidius spp.) found in abundance on the blooms of snakeweed plants growing on the backside of the dunes, there was really no reason to go anywhere else.  Besides, I still had not even attempted a field photograph of C. arenicola (although I had made sure to capture some live adults for studio shots that night as a backup).  As the sun began sinking in the western sky and temperatures began to cool off, I noticed the adults were becoming scarce and that fresh burrows were appearing on the dune surface.  In contrast to earlier in the day, adult beetles were found in nearly every burrow that I excavated—the beetles were digging in, and if I wanted field photographs it was now or never.  I managed a few distant shots of the first several adults I tried to stalk, but none of these were close to keepers.  I eventually noticed that beetles in the sparsely vegetated areas of the dune seemed to be slightly more approachable than those out on the open dune surface (perhaps they felt a little more secure in the presence of some cover), and although the vegetation often obscured clear views of the beetles, it was at least a more manageable problem than not even being able to approach them.  Finally, after considerable effort, I managed the photograph shown below.  I’d like to take credit for the near perfect composition and focus, but it was an actually a completely accidental shot.  I had been stalking the beetle for some time and had finally gotten closer to it than I had managed for any other beetle.  Rather than a presenting me with a lateral profile, the beetle was directly facing me as I closed in for the shot. Just as I pressed the shutter the beetle turned profile and then darted off.  Other than nipping the middle tarsus I don’t think I could’ve framed this uncropped photo better if I had tried.

Cicindela arenicola | September 2011 | vic. Idaho Falls, Idaho

Cicindela arenicola is closely related to C. waynei (known only from sand dunes in and around Bruneau Dunes State Park in southwestern Idaho), and it is only recently that the two have been considered separate species.  Cicindela waynei differs in its generally green rather than bronze coloration, more expanded white markings, and the presence of a curious upward projecting tooth on the male mandible (Pearson et al. 2006).  There are some populations in south-central Idaho assigned to C. arenicola that show an intergradation of characters between the two species, primarily in the presence of individuals with green coloration and expanded markings, so I found it interesting to encounter just such an individual at this southeastern Idaho site as well.  The individual, a male (and photographed in a terrarium that evening), looks very much like C. waynei except that it lacks the distinctive mandibular tooth characteristic of that species.

Male from same locality with green elytra and expanded markings

Cicindela arenicola is largely restricted to the Snake River Plain of southern Idaho, with a small population also occurring in the Centennial Sandhills of southwestern Montana (Winton et al. 2010). The sand dunes on which these beetles depend have suffered numerous assaults in recent years at the hands of man, with exotic invasives (Bouffard et al. 2009), trampling by cattle (Bauer 1991), and offroad vehicular traffic having the greatest impact on tiger beetle populations.  The species has been considered for listing on the Endangered Species List due to the imperiled nature of its limited habitat, but to this point such status has not yet been accorded.  It has, however, been listed as globally imperiled by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Bureau of Land Management.  Most people are completely unaware that this beetle exists, and probably fewer still would even care.  For me personally, however, the chance to see this rare and beautiful beetle in its native habitat and spend time watching its behavior was a thrill I won’t soon forget.

Tiger beetle's-eye view of its preferred sand dune habitat.

I haven’t forgotten about the challenges that led to this post.  However, the hour is late and I need my rest.  Points will be awarded over the next day or so, and the winner of BitB Challenge Session #4 will be crowned!  In the meantime, I’ve released the submitted comments so you can see how your answers fared against the competition—no do-overs!


Bauer, K. L. 1991. Observations on the developmental biology of Cicindela arenicola Rumpp (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae). Great Basin Naturalist 51:226–235.

Bouffard, S. H., K. V. Tindall and K. Fothergill. 2009. Herbicide treatment to restore St. Anthony tiger beetle habitat: a pilot study. Cicindela 41(1):13–24.

Pearson, D. L., C. B. Knisley and C. J. Kazilek. 2006. A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States & Canada: Identification, Natural History, and Distribution of the Cicindelidae. Oxford University Press, New York, NY. 227 pp.

Rumpp, N. L. 1967. A new species of Cicindela from Idaho (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae). Proceedings of the California Academy of Science 35:129–140.

Winton, R. C., M. G. Kippenhan and M. A. Ivie.  2010.  New state record for Cicindela arenicola Rumpp (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Cicindelinae) in southwestern Montana.  The Coleopterists Bulletin 64(1):43–44.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

ID Challenge #13 – Addendum

I hope you’ll forgive this inordinately extended challenge—I’m taking a little bit of a breather from my normally frenetic working/writing/editing schedule to enjoy a most unexpected baseball post-season.  I will be going through the comments left for ID Challenge #13 and releasing them shortly with awarded points, and without saying precisely what the scene in that challenge showed I will say that several participants correctly identified it as a sand dune habitat shaped by wind and dotted with tiger beetle burrows.  Since this is the last challenge of BitB Challenge Session #4, I thought I would extend it a little further and give people one more shot at scoring points on this challenge before the Session #4 standings are finalized and the winner announced.  The photo in this post shows the culprit responsible for the holes in the earlier photo—can you name it?  Of course, we all know it’s a tiger beetle (don’t we?), so genus and species will be fine and are worth 4 points each (if following the most recent classification).  As always, standard challenge rules apply, and I will be continuing the moderated comments during this extended challenge period.  I promise not to let another week pass before posting the full story.

 Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

ID Challenge #13

For this final challenge of Session #4 we have something a little different—explain the scene shown in the photo below. Your answer can be as short and concise or long and narrative as you wish—points will be awarded subjectively depending on how closely your explanation agrees with reality. Standard challenge rules apply, including moderated comments during the challenge period (you don’t have to be first to score points), early-bird points to those who do arrive at the correct answer before others, etc., and as always, creativity and humor are encouraged. C’mon—we’re all natural historians here, aren’t we? Let’s hear some natural history!

Explain the scene in this photo.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Lytta vulnerata cooperi

Lytta vulnerata cooperi | Idaho Falls, Idaho

I had other quarry on my mind when I visited Idaho a couple of weeks ago, but I couldn’t help but pay attention to this blister beetle (family Meloidae) feeding on rabbit brush flowers for the following two reasons: 1) its spectacular and boldly contrasting black and orange coloration, and 2) my collecting partner, Jeff Huether, is an expert on North American Meloidae. My identification of this individual as Lytta vulnerata is based strictly on one line of evidence: Jeff said that’s what it is!  My further identification as the subspecies L. vulnerata cooperi is more tenuous, being based on the distinctly sculptured elytra, immaculate pronotum, and more northerly location (nominotypical individuals, at least from what I can tell looking at photos assigned to the two subspecies, have the elytra indistinctly sculptured, generally exhibit a median line or vitta on the pronotum, and occur further south).

Note distinct elytral sculpturing and immaculate pronotum

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

The Methocha

As pointed out in my recent post, , there is much to learn still regarding tiger beetle larval parasitoids. In addition to bee flies (order Diptera, family Bombyliidae) of the genus Anthrax, tiphiid wasps (order Hymenoptera, family Tiphiidae) in the genus Methocha also parasitize tiger beetles in their larval burrows. Unlike bee flies, however, which sneakily lay their eggs in and around tiger beetle burrows when their victim isn’t watching, Methocha females aggressively engage the larva and even allow themselves to be grasped within the beetle larva’s sickle-shaped mandibles in order to gain entry to the beetle’s burrow.

Methocha appears to be a rather diverse genus, but it’s taxonomy is still incompletely known. George Waldren from Dallas, Texas is working on a revision of the genus and has found several new species in Texas alone. George is interested in seeing Methocha material from other areas as well and recently sent me the following reminder that adult females are active now:

…if you know of any areas with many tiger beetle larvae, now is the time to find Methocha. They superficially look like Pseudomyrmex ants, but once you see one you’ll catch on to them quickly. I collected more than 70 females today in a large aggregation of Tetracha carolina burrows.

In a subsequent message he adds:

Collect as many as you can, since they seem to be highly seasonal and rare most of the year. I almost always find them around beetle populations in sandy creek beds and receding bodies of water. A pooter works best if they are abundant and there isn’t much for them to hide under. Using your fingers also works—the sting is mild and usually doesn’t pierce the skin (depends on the person and size of the wasp). Vial collecting one by one works just as well.

Methocha females are generally overlooked due to their specialized life history and few specimens are in collections. Males are better represented since they’re easily collected with malaise traps.

If you have any Methocha specimens or manage to collect some, please contact George (contact info can be found at his BugGuide page). BugGuide does have a few photographs of these wasps to give you an idea of what they look like, but this excellent video titled “The Methocha” from Life in the Undergrowth with David Attenborough provides an unparalleled look at their appearance and behavior:

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Different Jaws for Different Jobs

Arrhenodes minutus (oak timberworm) | Wayne Co., Missouri

If you’re interested in wood boring beetles and live in the eastern  U.S. like I do, you’re sure to encounter sooner or later the region’s sole¹ “primitive weevil” (family Brentidae), the oak timberworm (Arrhenodes minutus).  This beetle develops as a larva in the wood of living trees exposed by wounding, creating numerous small “worm holes” that can occasionally degrade the value of wood grown for timber.  Females are presumably attracted to volatiles given off by wounded wood for oviposition, thus they are also commonly attracted to the trunks and stumps of trees harvested for lumber or cut for some other reason.  Cut trees are also highly attractive to wood boring beetles in the families Buprestidae and Cerambycidae—my primary taxa of interest, so I’ve seen more than a few oak timberworms over the years, including this male and female that I found on the cut stump of a large black oak (Quercus velutina) in Sam A. Baker State Park, Wayne Co., Missouri.

¹ Actually, there are three other species in eastern North America as well, but all are Neotropical species that occur no further north than the southern tip of Florida (Thomas 1996).

Female - beak thin and elongate

Male - beak short w/ robust mandibles

An interesting feature of oak timberworms and related species of primitive weevils is the rather extreme sexual dimorphism exhibited in the shape and function of the mandibles.  Mandibular sexual dimorphism is actually quite common across many groups of beetles, but in most cases the males simply have proportionately larger mandibles than females due to their use in sexual combat (think stag beetles, for example).  Oak timberworm males also have enlarged mandibles for combat with other males (males are territorial and guard females during oviposition).  The females, however, rather than simply having smaller yet similarly shaped versions of the male mandibles, instead have tiny little mandibles at the end of a greatly narrowed and elongated rostrum (beak).  This is because, unlike most other beetles in which the female mandibles lack a specific purpose, female oak timberworms use their mandibles to “drill” holes into the wood in which they will insert their eggs.  Different forms for different functions!

Mate-guarding behavior

I have read reports of males assisting females in removing her beak if stuck in the wood while drilling an egg hole by “stationing himself at a right angle with her body and pressing his heavy prosternum against the tip of her abdomen, her stout fore legs thus serving as a fulcrum and her long body as a lever” (Riley 1874, as quoted in Thomas 1996), making this a rare instance of tool use by insects.  I have not observed this behavior myself, but it is common to find the males in various mate guarding positions over the female as pictured above.


Riley, C. V. 1874. The northern brenthian—Eupsalis minutus (Drury). (Ord. Coleoptera; Fam. Brenthidae). Sixth Annual Report on the Noxious, Beneficial, and Other Insects, of the State of Missouri. Began and Carter, Jefferson City, Missouri, 169 pp.

Thomas, M. C. 1996. The primitive weevils of Florida (Coleoptera: Brentidae: Brentinae). Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry, Entomology Circular No. 375, 3 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011