Monday, July 06, 2015

Punctured Tiger Beetles!

Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela punctulata)

I found the motherload of Punctured Tiger Beetles at an abandoned sandlot over the weekend. It was a hot day and the beetles were exceptionally active and wary, which made them all the more challenging to photograph. This particular tiger beetle gets its name from two rows of tiny shallow pits that run parallel along either inner part of its protective wing cases or elytral edges. Maculations (shell patterns) vary from small markings or dots to none at all.

Although they're not quite as showy as some of their cousins, they still have a beautiful purple iridescence that sparkles under the bright sunlight. Still every bit the tiny terrors of the sand, they'll hold a fixed position and wait for a smaller insect to pass ― they're fast and efficient predators.

As I've written before, they're fairly difficult to sneak up on. If you walk at a normal pace, they'll generally fly away several feet before you see them. The trick is to move at a slow enough rate not to startle them, and then make a slow descent to your knees and elbows. I recommend wearing pants and a long-sleeved shirt, otherwise the skin on your knees and elbows will become rather raw from the sand. But if you're wearing shorts, it's beneficial to have something to kneel on ― sometimes I'll use my bucket hat. Make sure your camera settings are correct before you begin kneeling because any hand movements you make toward your camera will likely cause the tiger beetle to fly off.

Once you have a cooperative subject, try to take as many exposures as you can before the beetle begins to run or turn its back to you (yeah, they do that). Whether using manual or auto focusing, it's best to have the option to select the best of a series than rely on one or two shots. On this particular outing, I took just over 150 images. One slight vibration can render a blurred photograph.

Having an abundant number of subjects definitely increases your chances of coming away with some good shots. Though Spring Green Preserve has the best diversity of tiger beetle species I know of, this location had an abundance I've never witnessed. In some places there were up to a dozen of them in just a few square feet.

And naturally, some behaviors appear the same at any level...

Hunting Billbug (Sphenophorus venatus)

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

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