Sunday, July 26, 2015

3 Lifer Tiger Beetles!

"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order."

– John Burroughs

Wisconsin River near Sauk City

I've held an inordinate fondness for tiger beetles as long as I can remember. I believe I saw my first many decades ago as a young boy at my uncle's farm in Wood County. I think it may have been Cowpath Tiger Beetle (Cicindela purpurea), but I can't say for sure. I spent both Saturday and Sunday morning along the Wisconsin River near Sauk City seeking out the ferocious little insects on beaches and sandbars. To my surprise and astonishment, I picked up three lifers: Bronzed, Hairy-necked, and Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles. Plus, there were also Oblique-lined, Punctured, and Big Sand in the general area. What an absolute thrill for a tiger beetle geek!

As I scanned the large sandbar at the canoe launch, I could hear a grand diversity of songbirds vocalizing from the nearby woods and vegetation along the shore. An Eastern Towhee was singing from the other side of the river, but on my side I heard Great Crested Flycatcher, Field Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Warbling Vireo, Eastern Bluebird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Baltimore Oriole. Flying over the sandbar were Purple Martins, Barn Swallows, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. Both Green and Great Blue Herons were present, as well as a flock of Ring-billed Gulls that contained at least two Bonaparte's. Though I enjoyed hearing their familiar calls and voices, I came for the beetles.

Gull Feather

Lifer #1 was Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle (Cicindela macra). They were the most abundant of the species present on the sandbar. Early in the morning they were slower but flew further distances, like up to 10 meters or more. As morning progressed they became quicker and more active, but made shorter escape flights making them easier to track. After an hour of hunting prey, a few of them began mating, which made photographing them considerably easier.

Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle (Cicindela macra)


And even more mating...

Lifer #2 was Bronzed Tiger Beetle (Cicindela repanda), which were fewer in number and quite a bit more difficult to track down. This species came out about 30 minutes after Sandy Stream and consistently flew long escape flights. Though less wary than Sandy Stream, they were very challenging subjects compared to other tiger beetle species I've photographed.

Bronzed Tiger Beetle (Cicindela repanda)

This next Bronzed Tiger Beetle is holding itself as high as it can and at an angle to the sun in order to keep its body away from the warming sand and reduce surface area. This behavior is “stilting” combined with “sun facing” that tiger beetles use to help regulate body temperature.

Lifer #3 was Hairy-necked Tiger Beelte (Cicindela hirticollis). Owing to its lower frequency (perhaps just one individual), I was unable to obtain a front-view photograph; I just couldn't get in front of this little beast. No matter how much I shifted position, it either kept its back or side to me. This species has rather formidable mandibles, but that portrait will have to wait for a future opportunity. Something to look forward to!

Hairy-necked Tiger Beelte (Cicindela hirticollis)

Including last week's Ghost mission up north, I've now observed and photographed 11 tiger beetle species in Wisconsin. According to Mike Reese's website there are 16 species documented in the Badger state, leaving 5 remaining to be found. From reading species accounts, it looks like I may have to venture even further north should I desire to get them all.

Two Tiger Beetle Facts:

  • They can run almost 6 miles per hour. Relative to their size, this is equivalent to a human running almost 500 miles per hour or around 50 tiger beetle body lengths per second. You try and photograph one!
  • Belonging to the suborder Adephaga, tiger beetle common ancestry with ground beetles dates back some 200 million years. Yeah – they've been around a lot longer than we have.

Dotted Horsemint

Dotted Horsemint

After yesterday's tiger beetle mission, I spent a few hours at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. As I suspected, a few Sedge Wrens have moved into the prairie on account of sufficient forby plant development over the course of summer. Wildflowers are thick, but some of the more common species appear to be past peak. From near the parking lot I heard Dickcissel, Orchard Oriole, Common Yellowthroat, Willow Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, and Red-winged Blackbirds.


Sedge Wren

Nodding Onion

My last stop for the day was to check out the creek corridor. Nesting species there included Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and more of the usual corridor species. I didn't carry my scope through the corridor, but instead brought along my macro lens. It was a good thing, too. I found a beautiful Red-spotted Purple butterfly at one of the creek crossings

Nymph - species undetermined.

Red-banded Leafhopper

Red-spotted Purple (White Admiral)

What great weekend fun!

It's coming...

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell


  1. Wow! Congratulations on the lifer beetle sightings, and on getting such great shots of them!