You never know what natural wonder you will encounter when you visit Deception Pass State Park. One unexpected discovery I made there during the warmer months was that of tiger beetles. When I began to delve into this family of insects, I found that they are absolutely fascinating. They are of two general types, those that are active during the day and the night stalking type. So far I have only seen a species that is active in the daytime although species of both types are known to inhabit the Puget Sound area.
Voracious predators both as adults and larvae, many tiger beetles use what is literally blinding speed to chase down their prey. Sometimes referred to as “cheetahs of the insect world”, their long spindly legs zip them along at 120 body lengths per second. If a human were to match this, they would have to run over 200 mph. Now that’s fast! Being that fast is a huge benefit but it does create its own problems. The insect runs faster than its eyes can form images so after it starts running, it can’t see where it’s going. The tiger beetle has evolved behaviors that deal with this in two ways. First, it holds its antennae out in front of it in a V-shape to detect obstacles in its path. Secondly, it makes frequent stops to figure out where it is in relation to its prey. It can then readjust its path and use its great speed to catch whatever it is chasing.
Tiger beetles have large sickle shaped mandibles that make quick work of ripping apart their prey (often ants or spiders). They secrete an enzyme from the base of the mandibles that begin the digestive process as they tear their victim apart. The sharp mandibles and digestive enzyme can cause a painful bite to any unwary person who tries to handle them.
Tiger beetles typically take off for low short distance flights when they sense danger. That’s what first caught my eye. They would take off from the walking path, fly a few feet, and then land. Netting one for a closer look, I found that the beetles were about half an inch long. Their wing covers (elytra) had metallic green to dull brownish coloration and featured hieroglyph-like markings. After researching several references, I believe these insects are most likely western tiger beetles (Cicindela oregona).
The more I have read about tiger beetles, the more intrigued I have become. Their life cycle and behaviors are truly captivating. If you feel bugged to learn more about tiger beetles, check out the website [more]
For video showing how the grub-like tiger beetle larvae capture prey, visit [more]
If you’re curious about how fast various animals are in relation to their size, click on [more]