It is an early August morning and I am sitting in the Richmond International Airport, once again waiting for a flight to south Florida. There I will be revisiting the site where Cicindelidia floridana, once believed extinct, was rediscovered in 2007.
Last August I had the privilege of seeing this rare species in the wild and photographing several individuals while assisting Barry Knisley with surveys of the potential habitat.
Ever since that trip to Miami I hoped to make another trip down to see this species so when Ted MacRae, author of the excellent blog Beetles in the Bush, mentioned he was traveling to Florida this summer I jumped at the chance to see this species and to meet Ted in person. Before long the arrangements were set; not only would I be meeting Ted, but also the co-author of the floridana paper and prolific tiger beetle collector David Brzoska.
We would not be meeting until the evening of the day after my flight arrived, so upon my arrival in south Florida, while I had some free time, I visited several sites in search of a number of Floridian tiger beetle species (the results of this tangent will be detailed in future posts).
The next evening Ted and I met up at Dave’s where we spent the bulk of the evening looking at Dave’s unparalleled collection of tiger beetles from all over the world and I finally turned in for the night with visions of Manticora and Pseudoxycheila dancing in my head
We got an early start the next morning and headed out from Naples towards Miami on the approximately 2½-hour drive. By the time we reached the site the temperature was climbing through high eighties, presenting a distinct challenge to photographing this specie let alone any tiger beetle.
C. floridana is found in open sandy patches in pine rocklands, a habitat once common in the Miami area. The saw palmetto obscured any sandy areas so from a distance the habitat seemed unsuitable.
As Ted and I readied our camera gear, Dave ventured out through the saw palmetto and soon called out that he had spotted a beetle. I walked to a nearby sandy patch and quickly noticed the distinctive flash of movement. This first beetle darted away and then took flight as I attempted to maneuver closer.
However, in the next sandy area I spotted another beetle and began to slowly move in. This beetle also turned and took flight. And the next. This frustrating sequence of events repeated several times.
At last, after painstakingly inching forward on my stomach, I finally snapped a beautiful shot of a small male beetle. From a distance the beetle’s color was an oily bronze with subtle green undertones, but up close and lit by my flash this striking green was fully visible.
While I snapped off several shots this cooperative beetle remained still and, pressing my luck I moved in for a closer shot. To my surprise I was able to zoom in and get a closer shot which prominently showed the snow-white pronotal setae.
After this definite success, I managed to snap shots of a few other beetles, but none of these images turned out quite as nice as my first shots.
I then observed the behavior of the beetles in a few of the clearings. With the sun out and the temperature well into the eighties the beetles were actively moving about the sandy areas. I would notice a beetle occasionally “duck” its head as it snatched up one of the many small ants that were also running about. The beetle in question would then stand still and, watching closely, I could make out the swift movement of its mandibles as the hapless ant was reduced to mush.
When not actively looking for prey or a mate, the beetles would often take refuge from the sun in the shade of a grass stem near the edges of the clearing. I did see several attempted matings while I watched and once particularly determined male did manage to maintain his grip. The pair remained coupled for several long minutes until the female dislodged the male and scurried away.
Time passed all too quickly and before long Ted, Dave, and I began to gather back up to the car and soon headed back down the road to Naples. It had been a extremely successful day for me and Ted as well.