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.
Back on a late July day I was heading back from a field survey in Maryland’s eastern shore and decided to take a brief detour. I was not far away from a site where I had photographed Cicindela abdominalis back in 2008; however, I was not satisfied with the few shots I had taken and now wanted to take the opportunity to get some better shots.
The location in question, a sandy powerline access road adjacent to a park, was about half an hour away and by the time I arrived at the site the sun was sinking low in the sky. I was worried the beetles would not be active, but my concern was short lived as I spotted my first beetle within minutes of walking around the site.
This individual was wary, taking flight as I slowly attempted to move closer and I watched as the beetle alit in a sandy patch several feet away. Moving even slower I soon managed to get a shot of the beetle, though the posture of the beetle and the framing of the shot were not quite what I had hoped for.
The beetle seemed to acclimate to my intrusion and darted sideways, out of the camera’s field of view, grabbing a minute ant from the sand and a voraciously masticating it with its powerful jaws. Unfortunately as I repositioned the shot, my flash diffuser brushed against a tall blade of grass and this movement caused the beetle to again take flight.
During my brief search for another subject, I noticed several adult C. punctulata also darting about the sandy patches and taking flight as I approached. Before long I saw another distinctively small C. abdominalis. This time I approach slowly and using the Live view function of my Canon SLR managed a far better shot while holding the camera out a short distance from me.
I continued to attempt shots of a couple more beetles, but none of the results were quite as good. I did manage to get a clear shot of the maculations and characteristically red abdomen of one individual as it turned away from my lens.
By the time I finished taking shots of abdominalis, the sun was dipping behind the trees and I had to begrudgingly pack up my gear and continue down the road back to Virginia.
For more information on this species check out the species page on BugGuide.
I photographed this larval T. virginica last week – the larvae are distinctive owing to their large size (about 1.5 to 2 times the typical Cicindela sp larva) and a pale white band about the pronotum.
While the larvae are very shy and hard to approach during the day, at night the larvae are quite tolerant and, with care, are easy to photograph. I have also found that Tetracha larvae are the easiest to “fish” from their burrows as they will readily seize the blade of grass and will hold on fiercely.
This intricate figure depicts larvae from several of the genera of tiger beetles which occur in the United States. The amount of work to compile these illustrations and achieve such detail is simply mind numbing to think about!
Hamilton, C. C. 1925. Studies on the morphology, taxonomy and ecology of the larvae of Holarctic tiger beetles (family Cicindelidae). Proceedings of the United States National Museum 65, Article 17: 1-87.
Much to my delight I recently got my copy of the latest issue of the journal Cicindela in the mail; this issue includes two articles which piqued my interest:
In this issue Ted MacRae and Christopher R. Brown report on the occurrence of Dromochorus pruinina in Missouri. In brief, their findings suggest that D. pruinina has a severely limited range within Missouri, comprised of a small area within Johnson county; Ted addresses the implications of this over on his blog.
In the second article in this issue Jan Scott and John Acorn report a mass death of Cicindela purpurea auduboni and Cicindela decemnotata in September 2010. Scott observed some hundreds of these species dead near a trail atop a ridge in Medicine Hat, Alberta Canada.They note that the beetles appeared fresh; unmarred and still flexible with no outward clues to their demise. At the same time some live adults were observed with no apparent abnormalities in their behavior. While there were no photographs taken or official count made, some specimens were collected and deposited in Scott’s personal collection. The authors additionally report no similar incidents in the literature, thus rendering an explanation for this incident problematic.
Possible explanations proposed include that the deceased beetles may have emerged and had their first period of activity as adults in adverse weather conditions (lower temperatures and rain ) during the previous two weeks; consequently the conditions may have had some significant role in this incident. The authors also note the possibility of a chemical toxin as the causal agent; however, they dismiss this as a remote possibility citing the lack of evidence (no direct insecticide or other chemical spraying in the nearby area).
MacRae, T. C. and C. R. Brown. 2011. Distribution, seasonal occurrence and conservation status of Dromochorus pruinina (Casey) in Missouri. CICINDELA 43(1):1–13.
Scott, J. and J. Acorn. 2011. A puzzling mass death of Cicindela purpurea auduboni LeConte. and Cicindela decemnotata Say In Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. CICINDELA 43(1):15–17.
Brzoska, Knisley, and Slotten’s paper on the the rediscovery of Cicindela scabrosa floridana has finally been published and is available online here.