Sunday, May 3, 2015

HumBug: What's Up, Tiger Beatle?

Posted By on Sun, May 3, 2015 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge Easy, tiger. These beetles are so fast their eyes can barely keep up with the speeding scenery. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Easy, tiger. These beetles are so fast their eyes can barely keep up with the speeding scenery.
One of my favorite beetle species is out and about now. You might see them by the dozen hunting on sandy stretches of river bar. Cicindela oregano, commonly known as Western Tiger Beetle. About half an inch long and gray, they dart here and there and are among the fastest running creatures for their size. According to a Scientific American article a few years ago, they're so fast they have to stop periodically to allow the data fed from their outsized eyes to their tiny brains to catch up. But it isn't just speed that makes them interesting. Viewed close up, that calm gray suit is decorated with lighter cream dots, one of which looks like a musical notation for an “eighth note.” Viewed at this scale the next thing to notice is the jaws.

click to enlarge The flashy mandibles of tiger beatles. And yes, ahem, they are. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • The flashy mandibles of tiger beatles. And yes, ahem, they are.
You also start to see bright metallic greens and blues. A little closer in and the colors are intense. Like most beetles, their front wings, or elytra, are tough shields encasing and protecting their delicate folded-up hind flight wings. The top of the abdomen hidden by those is all brilliant metallic greens and blues, which are almost never seen.

When I'm walking along my favorite old dirt road next to the Van Duzen River, they flit in front of me, taking wing, making a short, low flight of about 9 feet and landing — often facing the perceived danger, me.

Members of the family of ground beetles (Carabidae ), they are rapacious hunters, running down their prey and piercing it with outsized jaws that are as long as their heads. Their larvae are just as predatory, making pits in the sand and waiting, buried at the bottom, to devour any hapless ant or other small insect that falls in.

click to enlarge Tigers in the sack? The male barely hangs on while the female multi-tasks, mating and hunting at once. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Tigers in the sack? The male barely hangs on while the female multi-tasks, mating and hunting at once.
This time of year you can often see the other use they have for those mandibles. The males use them to hold onto the female while mating. He needs to; he's in for a wild ride. She seems to hardly notice, continuing to run about capturing prey and evading danger, all the while carrying her fella, embraced by those wicked chompers. Despite its fierce nature, his outsized armament does her no harm.  
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