TIGER BEETLES OF ONTARIO
Photos and text by Steve Marshall
most familiar tiger beetle is a metallic green species, an iridescent insect
which regularly provides a flash of colour to spring
woodland walks. Cicindela sexguttata, called the Six-spotted Tiger Beetle despite
the fact that some individuals have only 5, 2, or even no white spots, usually
appears early in spring, having spent the winter as an adult hidden in the same
burrow it had pupated in the previous fall (a very few adults can still be
found in fall). Like all our adult tiger beetles, Six-spotted Tiger Beetles are
voracious hunters that hang out on sunny vantage points using their massive
eyes to scan for potential prey, and for
potential predators. Homo sapiens evidently falls in the latter
category, as a result of which most people first notice tiger beetles as they
make short, rapid escape flights, always seeming to stay several meters
distant. With a careful approach, however, C.
sexguttata can be observed on exposed rocks,
soil, logs, and even tree trunks in the open forest they prefer. Most of our
other tiger beetles hunt from open sand or other particular types of bare
ground, usually in the vicinity of the particular types of soils required by
their bizarre burrowing larvae.
tantalizingly rare tiger beetle is a stunning species with an iridescent green
background colour marked with characteristic
large, ivory-white, markings that distinguish it from the similar, but very
common Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata). It is also the rarest of
tiger beetles. Fifty years ago it was known from the
Ottawa area, but the only known
extant populations are from Pinery
and surrounding sites in Lambton County.
Most of our records of this elusive species are from spring or late summer.
closest relative of the Six-spotted Tiger Beetle, such a close relative
it was considered a mere subspecies of C. sexguttata
until recently, is so fussy about where it lives, it is easiest to identify by
its habitat. If you are lucky enough to see a bright green tiger beetle sitting
on open pavement alvars on Manitoulin
Island or similar habitats right along Ontario's western border, the odds are
you are looking at our second rarest (and most globally rare) tiger beetle, C.
denikei. This scarce species usually has only 2
or 3 small spots, in contrast with most specimens of C. sexguttata.
larvae are the only tiger beetle larvae which make their burrows under rocks,
as befits their unusual habitat (something only recently documented by Mike Kaulbars, when he was a
student working with the Canadian doyen of tiger beetle specialists, Professor Freitag). Most tiger beetles burrow in open, usually
sandy, places where their round, open burrow entrances join wasp and bee
diggings in giving such places the pock-marked appearance that tells the astute
observer that much of interest is going on. The larvae themselves are rarely
seen, as they usually pull deep into their burrows upon the approach of a big
vertebrate. Adults are usually seen in May and June.
sandy areas support most of Ontario's tiger beetles, and many are reliably
found in huge numbers in the right kind of habitat.
shores throughout the province, at least those that are not too trampled,
usually support huge numbers of our most common tiger beetle, Cicindela repanda,
especially in spring and late summer. Cicindela
repanda is one of a number of superficially
similar, brownish tiger beetles found in the province, and is
separated from similar species by the shallow C-shaped marking on the shoulder,
and the complete squiggly line near the middle of each wing cover. Similar
species either have different markings on the shoulders or have the squiggly
line on the wing cover absent or broken up into
pieces as in Cicindela duodecimguttata.
(the Twelve-spotted Tiger Beetle) sometimes occurs in small numbers with C. repanda, but also shows up on gravel dams and other
places which lack masses of C. repanda. This
species seems to prefer sheltered areas, as opposed to the open beaches
frequented by C. repanda, and likes a mixture
of moist sand and organic soil.
common species which sometimes gets mixed up with C. repanda
is the widespread species C. tranquebarica,
which has the hind part of the shoulder marking elongated, like a finger
pointing onto the middle of the wing cover. Cicindela
tranquebarica can be found in all sorts of open,
well-drained, sandy and gravelly habitats early in the spring, but eggs are
laid early and this species is rarely seen from late spring till late summer.
which has a G-shaped shoulder mark unlike the C-shape of the otherwise similar C.
repanda, is associated with extensive sand
shorelines, mostly along the Great Lakes and the Ottawa
river. This is a hard species to find, as
it no longer occurs at some of the relatively few Ontario
sites where it has been found in the past, probably because of shoreline
development. Where they do occur, C. hirticollis
adults are usually found in great numbers, and can be found from May till
disappearance of our rarest tiger beetles from previously occupied, apparently
suitable habitat is a recurring theme, repeated for Cicindela
hirticollis, and another tantalizingly hard to
find species called Cicindela lepida (the White Tiger Beetle or Ghost Tiger Beetle).
White Tiger Beetles are found only on open areas of pure, very fine, white or
yellow sand, especially inland areas of open, loose, deep, undisturbed sand
during late summer or early fall. Pale and superbly camouflaged, they are
virtually invisible against a sandy background, and
are easiest to spot by their shadows! C. lepida
has disappeared from some areas because of
reforestation, development or dirt bike activity. One can still find
dense but highly localized populations of White Tiger Beetles in the
valley and in the Long Point area. Look for them very late in the summer or
Ontario's tiger beetle species
can be easily and reliably found within a few hours drive
of southern Ontario's largest
cities. Some, like Cicindela punctulata, can be found throughout the late summer and
early fall on almost any dry, sunny areas with mixtures of open sand and
scattered grasses. Gravel pits and open farm tracks are good bets for these
small, dark tiger beetles with inconspicuous punctures and variable tiny white
markings. Cicindela punctulata
often co-occurs with the much more attractive Cicindela
scutellaris in inland sandy areas.
by far the most abundant species in southern Ontario's inland dunes, blowouts,
and open sand roads, varies in background colour from
purple to green, but can be easily recognized by the extensive white markings
restricted to the edge of the wing covers. This common species can be found
during most spring and summer months.
most conspicuous tiger beetle of inland dunes and sand blowouts, especially
those close to the
Great Lakes, is our largest tiger
beetle, Cicindela formosa. These
big brown or reddish brown beetles are distinctive not only for their size, but
also for the cream-coloured markings that extend in a
broad band around the edge of the wing covers, and extend onto the wing covers
as thick, finger-like extensions. These elegant beetles occur as far north as Orillia and Ottawa,
but they are most common farther south where large numbers can be seen in
spring. Some adults can still be found through to late August.
of the conspicuous dune tiger beetles of southern Ontario
drop off as one heads north. For example, the
sand dunes of the upper Bruce Peninsula
are conspicuously devoid of the Cicindela formosa
and C. scutellaris one would expect in similar
habitats further south. The tip of the Bruce, however, supports some
interesting northern insects, and the dunes of Bruce
Peninsula National Park
have recently been found to support Ontario's
southernmost populations of Cicindela longilabris, the big, black tiger beetle typical of
boreal regions of Canada.
Also found on Manitoulin
Island and in the Ottawa
region, these beetles can be found from June till August. They prefer sunny
spots in open coniferous forests, especially if there are small sand patches.
(the Purple Tiger Beetle) is a hard-to-find species that likes sparsely
vegetated, non-sandy areas like blueberry fields, lichen barrens, and vegetated
alvars. Purple tiger beetles are widespread but not
common and only active in spring and fall. The Purple Tiger Beetle is somewhat
similar to C. limbalis (The Green-margined
Tiger Beetle), a similarly coloured species which
differs from C. purpurea by having shoulder
patches and much more extensive wing markings.Green-Margined
(the Green-margined Tiger Beetle) is one of our most attractive tiger beetles,
with a purplish lustre and bold elytral
markings. Although Green-margined Tiger Beetles are widespread in the province,
they are rarely seen. Look for them in spring, especially on clay banks.
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Last updated: 4/iii/2000