Missouri Master Naturalists Seminar

Missouri Master Naturalist Confluence Chapter Seminar | December 9, 2014. Photo by Lee Phillion.

Speaking to the Missouri Master Naturalist Confluence Chapter, December 9, 2014. Photo by Lee Phillion.

Earlier this week I had the privilege of speaking to the Confluence Chapter of the Missouri Master Naturalist Program, the members of which are all graduates of the Missouri Master Naturalist Program. This community-based natural resource education and volunteer service program, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation and the University of Missouri Extension Service, seeks to engage Missourians in the stewardship of our state’s natural resources through science-based education and volunteer community service. To accomplish such, members support conservation efforts and natural resource education in their local communities.

Since I’ve studied the insect fauna of Missouri for many years now, especially in its threatened and endangered natural communities, I thought a talk on this subject might be of interest to the group. I decided to focus on some of the work I’ve done in two of our state’s most critically imperiled natural communities: loess hilltop prairies in the northwest corner of the state and sand prairies in the southeastern lowlands—with a talk titled, “From Hilltops to Swamps: Insects in Missouri’s Rarest Prairies”. The presentation provided an overview of each of these natural communities, the circumstances that have led to their rarity in Missouri, and the insects associated with them with special emphasis on species that are dependent upon these natural communities for survival. For those who might be interested, I’ve posted a PDF version of the presentation here.

From Hilltops to Swamps: Insects in Missouri’s Rarest Prairies

Truth be told, it was one of the most enjoyable seminars I’ve ever given, due mostly to a wonderfully engaged audience of about 70 people. It was a perfect opportunity for me to promote awareness of insects and the need to consider them in conservation efforts with an audience whose members are at the forefront of the citizen science effort within our state. I extend my heartiest thanks to Leslie Limberg for giving me the opportunity to speak, Lee Phillion for sending me photos from the event, including the one posted above, and—most importantly—the members of the audience for the warm welcome they extended to me and the interest they showed during my presentation.

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Black is beautiful!

As much love as I give to tiger beetles, I tend to be just as indifferent to the non-cicindeline ground beetles. Why this is I don’t know; ground beetles sensu lato are super diverse taxonomically, morphologically, and ecologically, and the colors of some rival even the gaudiest of beetles. Still, whenever I see a Harpalus pensylvanicus or Bembidion affine crawling on the ground, my brain just yawns and I look elsewhere. I suspect my tiger beetle inclinations have more to do with their extreme habitat specificity and attendant behavioral adaptations, in which areas the other ground beetles are clearly somewhat lacking. There are also those tiger beetles jaws!

Calosoma sayi (black caterpillar hunter) | New Madrid Co., Missouri

Well, there is one group of carabids that does excite me almost (almost!) as much as tiger beetles, and that is the nominate subfamily Carabinae with genera such as Calosoma, Callisthenes, Scaphinotus, and Cychrus—the so-called “caterpillar hunters” and “snail hunters.” These are the giants of the family, with most species measuring at least 15 mm in length and many measuring up to 25 mm in length or more. And then there are those jaws! Perhaps my feelings for this group are no coincidence, given the close relationship between these beetles and tiger beetles (in fact, most molecular data suggest that tiger beetles are firmly nested within the Carabinae).

Baby got jaw!

I came across several individuals representing Calosoma sayi (black caterpillar hunter), including the two individuals shown in the above photographs, back in late August under street lamps in the southeastern Missouri city of Portageville. Though it lacks the metallic colors possessed by many other species in the group, it does have those delightful, sculptured jaws. While I don’t normally like to photograph beetles on pavement, that’s where the beetles were and I’ve had poor luck in trying to move active beetles to an alternative substrate and then get them to settle down and resume natural-looking positions. In this case, it turned out not to be necessary to move the beetles, as the color and texture of the pavement provides a very nice background for these all black beetles. Also, did I mention those jaws?!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Photographing the Limestone Tiger Beetle

Seeing and photographing the beautifully black Prairie Tiger Beetles (Cicindelidia obsoleta vulturina) in southwestern Oklahoma was a lot of fun, but by Day 5 I was ready to look for one of my top goals for the trip—Cicindelidia politula (Limestone Tiger Beetle). Occurring primarily in Texas (but also sneaking up into Oklahoma), this would be my first attempt to search for the species. I had gotten a few localities in northern Texas from trusty colleagues, and I knew the beetles occurred on limestone outcroppings in dry to xeric upland habitats (Pearson et al. 2006)—usually starting in late September.  Nevertheless, I always get a little apprehensive when I drive long distances to look for tiger beetles I’ve never seen before. Will I recognize it? What if I find another, similar looking but more common species and assume I’ve found it? Will the season be right? Many species, especially those associated with xeric habitats, depend on timely rains to make their appearance. Will I find the proper microhabitat? There are sometimes seemingly minor details that can make a habitat suitable or not for a particular species.

Cicindelidia politula politula | Montague Co., Texas

As can be seen by the above photo, I did succeed in finding the species. However, it wasn’t easy, and for the better part of Day 5 I wondered if I would even be able to capture a specimen, much less succeed in photographing the species in its native habitat. I actually saw the first individual of this species in Oklahoma—sitting on the very first exposed limestone rock at the very first locality I went to. My rule for photographing tiger beetles that I’ve never seen before is to collect the first individual and keep it alive in a vial. In the event I never see another individual or fail in my attempts to photograph them in the field, the first individual becomes my voucher specimen and studio backup. Fortunately, I rarely have to resort to studio shots, but in this case I muffed my attempt to capture the specimen! I searched the locality for a good hour and never saw another one until I circled back to where I started, and there it was again (it just had to be the same one). Believe it or not, I muffed the capture attempt once again! That was my last chance at the Oklahoma site, so it was a rather dejected 2-hour drive south to Montague Co. in northern Texas—knowing that I’d seen it and had my shot at it (two shots, actually) but still found myself empty-handed.

A serviceable photo, but like most of confined individuals it suffers from lack of ”pizzazz.”

My luck improved in Montague Co., although not right away or that much when it did. I had just about given up at this second locality when I saw one. This time I used the stalk-and-slap technique followed by a quick pounce to seal down the net around its perimeter and prevent escape by the beetle (they are real good at quickly finding the tiniest gap between the net rim and the ground and then zipping away in a flash). This time I succeeded in capturing the beetle and thus had my voucher, but my pounce was a little too rough on the beetle, resulting in an extruded genital capsule. This made it completely unusable for photographs (imagine a big orange blob sticking out of the butt of the beetle—not good, photographically!). Of course, finding a beetle at the site caused me to spend more time searching, but I never saw another beetle there.

The shiny black to blue-black elytra with white markings absent or limited to the apices are characteristic for the species.

At this point I had a decision to make—if I drove to the next locality on my list (2-hour drive), I probably would not arrive with enough time before sunset to find beetles. I decided not to waste the remaining daylight and instead just bushwhack where I was to look for similar roadside habitats and drive on after sunset. I found another good habitat fairly quickly, and within minutes after starting the search I saw one—and missed it! But then I saw another one—and missed it, too! Now my confidence was shaken, as neither of the two techniques I use most commonly for capturing tiger beetles were working. When I used the “stalk-and-slap” method the beetles always found a gap on the rough, rocky ground and got away, and when I used the “tap-and-sweep” method the beetles would hunker down at first and then fly right after the net passed over them. I would miss a total of eight (eight!) beetles before I finally (finally!) caught one, and then I would miss three more beetles afterwards! That single beetle is shown in the above photographs, which were taken after placing the beetle on a large, flat limestone rock that I laid on the bed in my hotel room that night (carrying that huge limestone rock into the hotel room was an experience!).

I really dislike photographing confined insects. Even if one prepares a wholly natural looking set and manages to cajole the subject into standing still, they rarely look quite right. I do like the first photo in the series, just because it’s a well composed face shot, but I’m not so fond of the more ‘classic’ view of the beetle represented by the second photo. Technically it’s an adequate photo that shows the beetle and all of its salient characters; however, it lacks, well… oomph, because the beetle isn’t really doing anything—the photo tells no natural history story. Still, an adequate photo that lacks oomph is better than no photo at all, so I made the best of my opportunity to take studio shots of the one good beetle I had and hoped for better luck the next day.

Exposed limestone road bank in Johnson Co., Texas—perfect habitat for Cicindelidia politula

The next day brought the luck that I was looking for. I was close to the next locality on my list when I saw a road bank with exposed limestone that just seemed to call out, “Search me!” I stopped and began searching, and within a few minutes I saw the first beetle—and missed it! Arghhh, not again! I would actually miss a few more before I finally caught one, so by now my confidence was destroyed. It’s been a long since I’ve had this much trouble catching tiger beetles, and if I was having this much trouble catching them, how on earth could I even contemplate trying to photograph them. However, the nice thing about finding a spot where beetles are out in numbers is the opportunity to try again—practice makes perfect. I decided my previous attempts had all been a little too lackadaisical and started buckling down and really concentrating on my technique. Not surprisingly, I started having success in capturing the elusive beetles (tap-and-sweep worked best), and after a time I felt like I had a good enough feel for the beetle’s behavior to begin trying for field photographs.

Cicindelidia politula politula | Johnson Co., Texas

Not surprisingly, given how difficult they were to catch, this also proved to be one of the most difficult species of tiger beetle that I’ve ever tried to photograph. Like many other tiger beetles that live in hot, xeric, open habitats they were extremely wary and difficult to approach, a behavior that was exacerbated by the now midday sun. Their escape flights were not very far, but far enough that if I’d already gotten into a prone position I had to get up and start all over again. The task was made even more difficult by the hard, jagged, rough-edge rocks on which I had to lay and crawl—ouch! Several individuals are represented in the field photographs shown here, each of which I had to “work” for some amount of time before I was able to finally get close enough to start taking photos (and representing only a few of the many individuals that I actually spent time “working”). Usually, the first photos of an individual are never very good but start the process of getting the beetle accustomed to my presence and the periodic flash of light. Eventually, if I’m lucky, it settles down and resumes normal searching and thermoregulatory behaviors, and I can then get as close as I want and really work the angles for a variety of compositions. I no longer try to approach beetles from the ‘proper’ angle; they turn so much while moving about that it’s easier to just wait for them to assume desired angles as they move about and be ready to shoot when it happens. Field photography of unconfined tiger beetles in their native habitat is hard and time consuming, but the results are well worth the effort. Compare the staged photos of the Montague Co. individual with the field photos from Johnson Co. What marvelous displays of active beetles engaged in natural behaviors in their native habitat the latter represent!

By midday the adults start ”sun-facing” to minimize thermal exposure in their hot, xeric habitats.

After getting several good photos of the beetle in its habitat, I decided it was time to try for some really close photos and added a full set of extension tubes to the camera. A set of tubes with a 100mm macro lens provides close to 2X magnification, but it also reduces the available working distance—a real challenge with wary tiger beetles under a midday sun! I spent quite a bit of time trying to get close enough to take advantage of the additional magnification, but I wasn’t successful until I encountered the individual in the photos below shade-seeking at the base of a yucca plant. Shade-seeking beetles tend to stay put and not move as much (although they still rarely just sit there).

Shade-seeking is another strategy to avoid the midday heat.

I worked this beetle for several minutes and managed to get a number of shots, each closer than the previous and culminating in the nice portrait below.

The ”pièce de résistance”—Cicindelidia politula politula at 2X life size!

My photographic appetite now completely satiated, I spent the rest of the day searching for (and finding) additional localities for the species in the area. I found them more often associated with older, level exposures that had at least a small amount of vegetation. In contrast, newer or steeply sloped exposures or those completely devoid of vegetation rarely had beetles associated with them. I had now spent two days working on C. politula, but the results—both as a collector and as a photographer—made it time well spent. I felt like I “understood” the beetle. However, with only two days left in the trip, it was time to start working my way back towards Missouri and focusing on the few additional goals I still had for the trip.


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 2012

9th Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Trip: Day 1

Once again, I have embarked upon my Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Trip, this being the ninth consecutive year that I have done such a trip. Unlike previous editions, however, the quarry on Day 1 (Sept. 15) was not a tiger beetle but a longhorned beetle. Ataxia hubbardi is not uncommon in the eastern and central U.S. and breeds in the living tissues of a variety of herbaceous plants, but especially certain species of Helianthus, Ambrosia, and Silphium in the family Asteraceae. I was hoping to see a distinctive population of this beetle that is associated with prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) in the dolomite glades just south of St. Louis. This population is interesting because individuals are smaller, darker, and narrower in form than is typical for the species, and I would like very much to get some photographs of the adults, which seem most abundant in the fall, on the tall flower stalks of their host plant.

Victoria Glades Natural Area | Jefferson Co., Missouri

I first discovered the population many years ago—back in the 1980s when I visited one particular glade, Victoria Glades Natural Area, almost weekly over a period of several years. I left Missouri for a few years in the early 1990s but returned in 1995, and during my absence fire was implemented in Victoria Glades and other glades in the area as a management practice for controlling invasion by woody plants (primarily eastern red-cedar, Juniperus virginiana). While the use of fire has certainly done much to restore the glades and improve its floral diversity, it seems more than coincidental that insect abundance and diversity on the glades is only a fraction of what I observed during my pre-burn collecting in the 1980s. There are a number of beetle species that I found at the glade historically that I have not seen now for more than 20 years; one of which is this distinctive population of A. hubbardi.

Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) – host for Ataxia hubbardi

The prairie dock plants were at the height of bloom, but the flower stems seemed shorter and the normally large, spatulate basal leaves of the plants generally smaller than typical—perhaps a result of this summer’s severe drought. How such conditions affect the beetles is unknown. The day was also rather cool due to unbroken cloud cover and light drizzle, with temperatures in the low 70s during my visit. I spent the better part of two hours inspecting the stems of every prairie dock plant that I encountered and did not see a single beetle, so it has now been 23 years—almost a quarter century—since I’ve seen this once fairly common species at the glade. Can I prove that fire management has extirpated the beetle? No—populations might have been knocked down by the drought, or maybe the adults hide on cool, cloudy, drizzly days. Still, the pattern is too consistent to ignore, and I become increasingly worried that a special feature of these glades has now been lost.

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius intermedius) – host for Dicerca pugionata

On the other hand, another quite rare beetle that I encountered abundantly at Victoria Glades in the past seems to have rebounded from its long absence—the jewel beetle Dicerca pugionata. This beautiful beetle is associated with the scraggly clumps of ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius intermedius) that hang on in the moist toe slopes of the glades. I wrote about this species earlier this year after re-discovering it in the glades; however, I couldn’t resist taking a few more photographs of this stunningly gorgeous species. This species also makes its appearance in the fall as well as spring, and in the two hours I spent searching I counted 13 beetles—more than I’ve ever seen on any one day. Interestingly, most of these were associated with a stand of plants in an area at the south end of the glade that I had never searched before and that appears not to have been subjected to fire management (cedar removal has been effected instead with a chain saw). Only a few of the beetles were found in the much more abundant plants growing in the area of the glade I am more familiar with and that has obviously been subjected to repeated burning. It’s not proof, but I’m just saying…

Dicerca pugionata on ninebark branch.

Adult beetles are colored almost precisely the same as the bark of their host plant.

More even lighting in this face shot compared to my previous attempts.

The cool temperatures and light drizzle were not conducive to much other insect activity, but while crossing the small, shallow creek that separates the south end of the glade from the main glade, the biggest male tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi) that I have ever seen caught my attention as it crossed the creek. Situated only 30 miles south of St. Louis, Victoria Glades must represent the northeastern limit of distribution for the species, and although I once saw a tarantula crossing the road very near to this location, this is the first tarantula that I have actually seen in the glades that lie so close to St. Louis. Males are famous for their fall wanderings, presumably in search of the females that tend to stay within their burrows. This male was missing part of one of its hind legs but otherwise appeared quite healthy and robust. I hope he succeeds in finding a mate and sires many offspring and is not discovered by any of the poachers who regularly scour the glades and steal its more unusual inhabitants—the glades have already lost enough of their unique residents…

Can you find the tarantula crossing the creek? (Hint: 0.60X, 0.37Y)

Male Aphonopelma hentzi | Jefferson Co., Missouri

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Even a 12-year old can discover the larva of a rare, endemic species!

Since discovering the larva of the rare, endemic Florida metallic tiger beetle (Tetracha floridana) in the small, intertidal mangrove marsh behind my sister-in-law’s condominium in Seminole, Florida three years ago, I’ve looked forward to subsequent visits to see the adults (they’re nocturnal) and gather additional material needed to write the larval description. I had to wait a few days on this year’s trip due to rain (it is Florida, after all), but eventually a dry evening came along and I began “suiting up” for my nighttime foray. Much to my delight, my 12-year old nephew Jack wanted to come with me. Jack had never been in the field with me before, but according to his mom he has become quite interested of late in science and biology. My daughter Maddie, also 12 years old (and a veteran of many trips to the field with me), also wanted to go, so together the three of us slathered on the insect repellent and headed into the dark towards the marsh.

Larva of Micronaspis floridana (Florida intertidal firefly) | Pinellas Co., Florida

We had only my headlamp as a light source, so the kids trailed behind me as I picked a line through the brush, across a small creek, and onto a ridge that snakes through the marsh that marked one of the areas where I had seen good numbers of the beetles last year. We collected a small number to keep alive and place in a terrarium of native soil, the hope being that they would lay eggs so I could obtain some 1st-instar larvae for the formal description, but what I was really looking for were larval burrows. As we (well, I) searched the ground in front of me with the lamp and the kids trailed behind me in the dark, Jack suddenly stopped and said, “What’s that?” I shone my light to where he was pointing but didn’t see anything and so resumed my search. Right away he said, “There it is again.” I asked if it was a rabbit (we’d seen them at the edge of the marsh during the day), and he said, “No, it’s like a light or something.” I turned off the lamp, and gradually the faint, green glow reappeared. I recognized the source of the light instantly as that of a larval firefly, although truthfully I have never actually seen an actual firefly larva. Seeing a great teaching moment for the kids, we walked to the light, knelt down, and shone the lamp directly on the ground from where the light was coming to find the small (~10 mm long) larva moving slowly through the moist, algae-covered rocks. It had the classic, retractable firefly head and curiously quadruply-spined tergites. I congratulated Jack on finding the larva, emphasizing that I would have never seen it myself had he not been there and been so observant despite not having a lamp.

Larvae of this species exhibit the retractable head characteristic of firefly larvae.

I went back a few nights later by myself so I could concentrate on photographing some of the things we saw in the marsh the previous night, including the firefly larva. I had no problem relocating one in the same place we found it before (I just turned off my headlamp and waited for the green glow). I’m generally not keen on posting photographs of unidentified insects (just me, but I find photos much more interesting when accompanied by the natural history back story), and I was sure this larva would remain unidentified (I have little knowledge of adult fireflies, much less their larvae). This seemed even more likely after perusing the few identified and many unidentified firefly larvae photographs on BugGuide and finding nothing even remotely similar. I was about to give up when I decided to try the search term “Lampyridae Florida Pinellas” (“Pinellas” being the county where we found the larvae—my thinking being that maybe there was a Florida firefly checklist that could narrow down to the county level the possible species), and high in the results was a page titled Florida intertidal firefly (fiddler crab firefly). On that page was a photo of the larva, although not nearly large and detailed enough to be sure it was the same, but still in my mind almost surely this species because of the stated restricted habitat—intertidal zone of Florida coastal salt marshes! I sent these photographs to lampyroid aficionado Joe Cicero, who kindly confirmed my identification. 

Restricted to intertidal marshes in coastal Florida.

Because it occurs only at the edges of salt water marshes around the peninsular coast of Florida, M. floridana is a classic example of shoestring geographic isolation and, thus, serves as a good model for studies of genetic isolation and its impact on speciation (Lloyd 2001). Along with T. floridana, it now makes at least two rare, Florida-endemics occurring in the small private, preserve behind my sister-in-law’s condominium (both of which were first found as larvae rather than adults). Although the larva of M. floridana is already known—albeit by a rough black and white photograph (McDermott 1954)—it’s rarity and restricted habitat nonetheless make it an exciting find well deserving of the more detailed color photographs shown here. However, as I told Jack after receiving confirmation of its identity, he gets full credit for the discovery. I took him into the field with me with the intention of showing him some new things, and he turned the tables on me! Yes, even a 12-year old can discover the larva of a rare, endemic species!


Lloyd, J. E. 2001. On research and entomological education V: a species concept for fireflyers, at the bench and in old fields, and back to the Wisconsian Glacier. Florida Entomologist 84(4):587–601.

McDermott, F. A. 1954. The larva of Micronaspis floridana Green. The Coleopterists Bulletin 8(3/4):59–62.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Dicerca pugionata – safe and sound!

Dicerca pugionata on Physocarpus opulifolius (ninebark) | Jefferson Co., Missouri

One of my favorite beetle species in Missouri is Dicerca pugionata—a strikingly beautiful jewel beetle (family Buprestidae) found sporadically across the eastern U.S. Unlike most species in the genus, which breed in dead wood of various species of trees, D. pugionata larvae mine living stems of certain woody shrubs—namely alder (Alnus spp.), witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) (Nelson 1975). When I first began studying Missouri Buprestidae (way back in 1982), the species had just been reported from the state based on a single specimen (Nelson et al. 1982). I happened to stumble upon these beetles at what became my favorite collecting spot during the 1980s—Victoria Glades Natural Area, just south of St. Louis in Jefferson Co. For several years while I was visiting Victoria Glades, I found these beetles regularly during spring and fall on stems and branches of living ninebark plants growing within the ravines and along the toeslopes at the lower edges of the glades.

After finding the beetles at Victoria Glades (and nearby Valley View Glades Natural Area), I made it a habit to examine ninebark wherever I found it growing in Missouri. Ninebark is actually rather common in the state along the rocky streams and rivers that dissect the Ozark Highlands. Interestingly, I almost never encountered this beetle on ninebark elsewhere in the state. I’m sure it occurs in other areas, but probably at too low a level to be easily detected. I surmised that the populations at Victoria and Valley View Glades were unusually high due to the non-optimal conditions for its host plant. The ravines and toeslopes where the plants grow are drier than typical for ninebark, and unlike the lush, robust plants found in moister streamside habitats, the plants at these glades are small, scraggly and often exhibit a certain amount of dieback. It seemed likely to me that the plants growing in the glades were less capable of fending off attacks by these insects, thus resulting in relatively higher numbers of beetles at these glades.

After the publication of my “Buprestidae of Missouri” (MacRae 1991), it would be many years before I actually returned to Victoria Glades. When I did return, I was pleased to see that management practices (e.g. prescribed burning, cedar removal, etc.) intended to halt the encroachment of woody vegetation and preserve the glade’s pre-settlement character had been implemented in the area. I was a little bothered, however, by the seeming paucity of insects compared to the years prior to management. I visited the glades again several times afterwards, and not only did insect populations in general seem to be depressed, but I never succeeded in finding D. pugionata adults on the ninebark plants. I began to worry that the prescribed burns, while clearly beneficial to the glade flora, might have had a negative impact on the glade’s insect populations.

I’m happy to report that, at last, I have found the beetles again. I returned to the glades in early May this year and, for the first time since 1987 I found the adults of this species—five in all (a typical number for the many dozens of plants checked) and right in the same areas where I had so consistently found them 25–30 years earlier. This does much to allay my concerns about the ability of these beetles to persist in the face of prescribed burning (though I remain convinced that this management technique should be used more judiciously in our state’s natural areas than it has in recent years), and I’m happy to have these new photographs of the species, which are a decided improvement over the old scanned slides taken nearly 30 years ago!


MacRae, T. C. 1991. The Buprestidae (Coleoptera) of Missouri. Insecta Mundi 5(2):101–126.

Nelson, G. H. 1975. A revision of the genus Dicerca in North America (Coleoptera: Buprestidae). Entomologische Arbeiten aus dem Museum G. Frey 26:87–180.

Nelson, G. H., D. S. Verity & R. L. Westcott. 1982. Additional notes on the biology and distribution of Buprestidae (Coleoptera) of North America. The Coleopterists Bulletin 35(2) [1981]:129–151.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Tiger beetles in southeast Missouri

Figure 1. Sites surveyed in southeastern Missouri for Cylindera cursitans during 2007–2010. Site numbers are referenced in Table 1 (CRP = Cape Rock Park), with red stars indicating sites where C. cursitans was observed. Black box on inset map of Missouri denotes main map area (bordering states include AR to the south and TN, KY, and IL to the east).

ResearchBlogging.orgVolume 43(3) of the journal CICINDELA was published a few weeks ago, and I can truly lay more claim to the issue than anybody else (except perhaps Managing Editor Ron Huber). In addition to having one of my photos (a face-on shot of Tetracha carolina) featured on the cover, I was coauthor on the first of two papers included in the issue and lead author on the second. (And to complete my stamp of ownership, I did the final assembly of the issue as the journal’s Layout Editor.) The two included papers each report the results of surveys conducted in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain of southeastern Missouri (also called the “bootheel” in reference to its shape—see Fig. 1) for tiger beetles whose occurrence in that part of the state was previously not well known. In the first, Fothergill et al. (2011) used a novel survey technique that involved searching beneath irrigation polypipe in agricultural fields to find Tetracha carolina (Carolina Metallic Tiger Beetle); while the second paper (MacRae et al. 2011) reports the results of a multi-year survey to characterize the distribution, habitat associations and conservation status of Cylindera cursitans (Ant-like Tiger Beetle). Together with our three papers on Habroscelimorpha circumpicta johnsonii (Saline Spring Tiger Beetle), Dromochorus pruinina (Loamy Ground Tiger Beetle) and Cylindera celeripes (Swift Tiger Beetle)—all published in the past year—these two papers officially complete the battery of publications that describe our survey efforts for the five tiger beetle species considered of potential conservation concern in Missouri when Chris Brown and I began our faunal studies of the group more than ten years ago.

The first three papers clearly painted a rather gloomy picture—H. circumpicta johnsonii is possibly extirpated from saline spring habitats in central Missouri, D. pruinina is limited to a 2.5 mile stretch of roadside habitat in western Missouri, and C. celeripes is restricted to a few patches of critically imperiled loess hill prairie habitat in extreme northwestern Missouri. Happily, prospects for T. carolina and C. cursitans in Missouri are much better. While both are limited in the state to the southeastern lowlands, our surveys indicated that populations are sufficiently robust and widespread in the area to alleviate any concerns about the potential for extirpation. Tetracha carolina in particular was found abundantly in agricultural habitats and appears to have adapted well to the extensive modifications caused by conversion of the cypress-tupelo swamps that formerly covered the region. Cylindera cursitans (Fig. 2) hasn’t shown nearly the same adaptive capability as T. carolina; however, it has nevertheless found suitable refuge in the ribbons of wet, bottomland forest that persist between the Mississippi River and the levee systems that protect the region’s farmland. For a time it seemed that the same habitats along the St. Francois River that bound the western side of the region weren’t suitable for the species, but after much searching (in often tough conditions!) Kent finally managed to locate a population on the Missouri side of the river opposite a known population in Arkansas.

Figure 2. Cylindera cursitans in southeast Missouri: a) New Madrid Co., Girvin Memorial Conservation Area, 6.vii.2007; b-c) Mississippi Co., Dorena Ferry Landing, 6.vii.2008; d) Mississippi Co., Hwy 60 at Mississippi River bridge, 20.vi.2009. Photos by CRB (a) and TCM (b-d).

Both of these species illustrate how healthy populations of insects are able to hide right beneath our noses. Previous to our surveys, records of T. carolina and C. cursitans in southeastern Missouri were scarce (the latter consisting of a single specimen in the Enns Entomology Museum at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and with considerable searching required before the first field population was finally located). In both cases, perceived rarity was a result not of actual rarity, but rather specific habitat requirement or unusual behavior. While I get great satisfaction out of finding populations of “rare” species and increasing our understanding of their habitat requirements, I also can’t help but wonder if they truly are rare and how many populations I might still have missed—populations that I would have found had I searched in a slightly different manner or at a slightly different time.


Fothergill, K., C. B. Cross, K. V. Tindall, T. C. MacRae and C. R. Brown. 2011. Tetracha carolina L. (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) associated with polypipe irrigation systems in southeastern Missouri agricultural lands. CICINDELA 43(3):45–58.

MacRae, T. C., C. R. Brown and K. Fothergill. 2011. Distribution, seasonal occurrence and conservation status of Cylindera (s. str.) cursitans (LeConte) (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) in Missouri. CICINDELA 43(3):59-74

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle

Great Sand Dunes National Park | Saguache and Alamosa Counties, Colorado (click for 1680 x 887 version)

Last year’s Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Trip entered its last day as an unqualified success. Travel partner Jeff Huether and I were doing the “Great Western Sand Dune Tour” on a quest to find and photograph some of North America’s most geographically restricted tiger beetles. The first four days featured successful visits to northwestern Colorado’s Maybell Sand Dunes for Cicindela scutellaris yampae and Cicindela formosa gibsoni, southeastern Idaho’s St. Anthony Sand Dunes for Cicindela arenicola, and southwestern Utah’s Coral Pink Sand Dunes for the prize of the trip—Cicindela albissima. The only endemic that we had failed to find was Cicindela waynei at southwestern Idaho’s Bruneau Sand Dunes (hopefully this was a result of poor fall emergence conditions rather than an indication of further decline of this perilously endangered species).

Small sand dune west of GSDNP in the Nature Conservancy's Medano-Zapata Ranch.

Day 5 featured a visit to southwestern Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes to look for the endemic Cicindela theatina. As on every day previous of the trip, the morning drive saw cool but rising temperatures under bright, sunny skies, so we were optimistic about our chances. Between Great Sand Dunes National Park (type locality of the beetle) and The Nature Conservancy’s Medano-Zapata Ranch west of the park, the entire 290 km² range of C. theatina is on protected land. Not knowing whether the beetle would be out and, if so, how extensively it would occur, our plan was to approach the Park from the west through Zapata Ranch and stop at any sand dunes we sighted along the way until we found the beetle.  It didn’t take long—as soon as we entered the Ranch we began to see small sand dunes in the distance, and within minutes after making the 1-km hike towards one particularly promising looking dune we saw the beetles. Even though this was the fifth western sand dune endemic I had seen in as many days, the first moment I laid eyes upon it was no less exciting—flashing red and green on coppery, white marked elytra, it seemed all hair and teeth!

Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle (Cicindela theatina) | Medano-Zapata Ranch

Despite this being my first sighting of the species, there was no doubt about it’s identity. The only other tiger beetle that occurs with and could possibly be mistaken for C. theatina is the blowout tiger beetle, C. lengi; however, the broad marginal band that runs completely around the elytra and the green/brown dorsal coloration of C. theatina are enough to distinguish it from that species. Temperatures were still a bit on the cool side, but the beetles were already remarkably active and skittish. Like the other sand dune species we had already seen, they were enormously difficult to approach—numerous failed attempts were necessary before I encountered the slightly more cooperative female shown in these photos (although she still required several minutes of stalking to get her sufficiently accustomed to my presence to allow these shots).

Like most sand dune tiger beetles, adults are densely hairy on the lateral and ventral surfaces.

Adults ''hug'' the sand for warmth during the cooler morning hours.

The dense covering of white hairs on the lateral and ventral surfaces of the adults belies their adaptation to the abrading sands of their wind-swept habitat. Scouring sands, however, are not the only hardships that the adults must contend with. Temperatures on the dunes can range from as low as 40° F on a chilly morning to nearly 140° F during the heat of the day. Accordingly, much of the adult beetle’s activities revolve around thermoregulation to maintain optimal body temperatures for activity (Pineda and Kondratieff 2003). These include not only stilting, shade-seeking, and mid-day burrowing to avoid excessive warming (see my post  for examples of these behaviors), but basking to gain warmth when temperatures are still a bit too cool for effective foraging (photo above).

Fabulous metallic red and green highlights on the head and pronotum contrast with the reddish brown elytra and their white lateral markings.

Despite the fact that the entire range of this species is encompassed by protected land, WildEarth Guardians filed a petition for federal listing as an endangered species in 2007 (Tweit 2010). Whether protection will be granted remains to be seen—Coral Pink’s C. albissima has a global range only 1.3% the size of C. theatina‘s range (only slightly more than half of which is on protected land), yet that species has been awaiting listing for nearly three decades now! (Too bad C. theatina doesn’t have real fur, feathers, or those endearing mammalian eyes that would surely allow it to jump to the front of the line.)

For the first time in BitB Challenge history, we have a 4-way tie for the win. Dorian Patkus, Mr. Phidippus, Mike Baker, and David Winter all share the honors for . Mr. Phidippus is the big winner, however, as he strengthens his grip on the overall lead with a lead of 13 or more points over his nearest rivals (Roy, Tim Eisele, Mike Baker, and Dennis Haines). The competition is far from over though—a single misstep is all it would take to see the emergence of a new leader before this session is over.


Pineda P. M. and B. C. Kondratieff. 2003. Natural history of the Colorado Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle, Cicindela theatina Rotger. Transactions of the American Entomological Society 129(3/4):333–360.

Tweit, S. J. 2010. Beetle Mania. National Parks 84(4):24–25.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012