Puritan Tiger Beetle Fact Sheet
PURITAN TIGER BEETLE
Copyright © 1997
|Habitat: In New England, sandy beach
habitat along the Connecticut River. Burrows are dug in upper shoreline areas with
scattered vegetation and sandy clay soils.
Length: 0.44-0.56 inches.
|Life Cycle: 2 years.
Food: Small insects, especially flies and ants.
Status: Federally threatened and state endangered.
Identification: The Puritan tiger beetle is a medium-sized terrestrial beetle.
It has long legs and dark bronze-brown to green wing covers with cream-colored markings on
the upper surface. This beetle often occurs with the more common Cicindela repanda,
which is stouter, has white markings on the wing covers that do not connect along the
edges, and is metallic blue-green under the body. In contrast, the Puritan tiger beetle
appears longer and thinner, has whitish markings that connect along the outer margins of
the wing covers, and has white hairs on the underbody. The Puritan tiger beetle appears
whitish and shining in bright sunlight, while C. repanda is more of a chocolate
brown and shows a blue flash from underneath when it flies.
Range: The Puritan tiger beetle is found only in two small areas which are
separated by over 600 miles, one along the Connecticut River, in New England, and the
other along the Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland. In the Connecticut River Valley, the species
distribution follows the sand and clay deposits formed by glacial lakes during the last
Reproduction: The Puritan tiger beetle emerges from the pupal stage as an adult
in late June. Mating begins in mid-July and may continue until mid-August, when the adults
start to die off. Females have been observed mating with more than one male and placing
their eggs singly, just below the surface of the sand among scattered plants. After about
a week, the eggs hatch into larvae about one-third of an inch long. The larvae dig a
burrow an inch or two deep in the sand. They sit on top of the burrow, blocking the
entrance with their large heads, and wait for prey, which they capture with their
sickle-like mandibles (the principal jaws). After 2 to 4 weeks, the larvae molt into a
slightly larger second stage, which dig deeper into the burrow, about 1.5 to 2 feet. By
late October, these second-stage larvae close their burrows for the first of their two
winter hibernations. In April or early May of the next spring, they open their holes and
are active for a month or two, then close their burrows again until early September, when
they molt to the third and final larval stage. These larvae remain active until late fall
when they close their burrows for their second winter. The following spring, they are
active until about June, when they pupate and transform into adults. The adult beetles
then emerge from their burrows and begin the cycle again.
Reason for Decline: Puritan tiger beetle populations are limited by the
availability of sandy beach habitat along rivers, which tends to occur below large river
bends. Some historical sites where beetles occurred have been lost to bank stabilization
around cities and by habitat loss due to flooding behind dams. The operation of flood
control and hydroelectric dams has changed the way rivers flow and flood, possibly
affecting the forces which create and maintain river beaches. At least one site, in
Massachusetts, appears to be threatened by heavy recreational use.
History in Connecticut: The Puritan tiger beetle was collected in several towns
from Middletown to the Massachusetts border in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Presently,
they are found at a single cluster of 3 small sites. The total population in New England
is less than 1,000; more than 99 percent of the remaining New England population is found
only in Connecticut.
Interesting Facts: Like many insects, the Puritan tiger beetle has a complex
life history. The immature stages look and act very differently from the adult. The adults
are typical tiger beetles, active primarily on sunny days. They are long-legged predators
which hunt by running along the sand, capturing small insects in their sharp, toothed
jaws. In turn, they are preyed upon by dragonflies and robber flies. Puritan tiger beetles
go through bursts of foraging activity, alternating with periods of standing still. The
beetles' markings and color are cryptic, making them very difficult to spot if they are
not moving. The larvae, in contrast, are somewhat like thin white caterpillars and are
sit-and-wait predators. They almost never emerge from their vertical burrows. As the
larvae move up and down their burrows, they smooth out the top of the hole, making it very
round so that it almost appears to have been made by a drill. After rain or high water,
they use their wide, flat heads like shovels to clear out sand that has fallen into their
holes. Larvae have hooks on the backs of one of their body segments, so that their
predators find it difficult to pull them out of their burrows.
The Puritan tiger beetle leads a life of remarkable contrasts. It depends on areas
which are disturbed enough to remain relatively open and free of plant cover, but not so
disturbed that they wash away. Their habitat can be covered by floods in almost any month
of the year, and larvae often spend a month or more under the water during spring floods.
During the summer months, adults are active, but larvae close their holes and are
inactive. This is probably to avoid parasitism by flies and wasps, which try to lay eggs
on the larvae or drop their eggs down the larval hole. The parasitoid eggs, if successful,
will hatch into larvae that attach to the back of the tiger beetle larva and eat it alive,
eventually emerging from the burrow as an adult wasp or fly.
Although some other tiger beetles take only one year to develop, the Puritan tiger
beetle takes two years, running the risk of being washed away by two successive years of
spring floods. The beaches and banks of the Connecticut River are an unusual and rare
habitat, and the Puritan tiger beetle has adapted to these unique challenges.
Protective Legislation: Federal - Endangered Species Act of 1973. State
- Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 26-311.
What You Can Do: Plants and animals which live on beaches are under great
pressure from development and recreation. Remember that the beach you are on may be some
creature's living room--tread softly and treat it with respect.
The production of this Endangered and Threatened Species Fact Sheet
Series is made possible by donations to the Endangered Species-Wildlife Income Tax