Posts tagged “florida

The Miami tiger beetle receives “Endangered” status

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The Miami tiger beetle, Cicindelidia floridana, and its story are unique. An 18-year-old student first collected the species in 1934 from pine rockland habitat in northern Miami-Dade. Pine rocklands were once the dominant habitat in south Florida, extending from the Florida Keys to the northern border of Miami-Dade County, but development has steadily engulfed this habitat. Today 1.8% of the metro Miami-Dade pine rocklands remain standing.

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In the context of this widespread habitat loss and seventy years without any beetles observed the Miami tiger beetle was presumed extinct. But, in 2007 a population of Miami tiger beetles was rediscovered in the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, the largest contiguous remaining rocklands in Miami-Dade (below), and in 2015 a second population was found at an undisclosed patch of pine rocklands nearby.

ZMEA site 2014

The Miami tiger beetle faces the immediate threats of habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation from inadequate habitat management and two proposed developments; a mixed-use development, Coral Reef Commons (below) and a major theme park, Miami Wilds.

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Distressingly, the species is also actively sought by private, non-scientist tiger beetle collectors due to its extreme rarity.

On December 11th 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity, Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association, South Florida Wildlands Association, Tropical Audubon Society, Sandy Koi, Al Sunshine, and I submitted a petition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, urging the Miami tiger beetle be formally listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Today, on October 4th 2016, the Service announced the Miami Tiger Beetle will receive “endangered” status under the Endangered Species Act which will become effective on November 4th 2016.

The Miami tiger beetle joins other Federally listed (threatened and endangered) pine rockland endemics, including the Florida Bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus), Florida leafwing (Anaea troglodyta floridalis), Bartram’s hairstreak (Strymon acis bartrami), Blodgett’s silverbush (Argythamnia blodgettii), Florida brickell-bush (Brickellia mosieri), Big Pine partridge pea (Chamaecrista lineata var. keyensis), deltoid spurge (Chamaesyce deltoidea deltoidea), wedge spurge (Chamaesyce deltoidea serpyllum), Carter’s small-flowered flax (Linum carteri carteri), sand flax (Linum arenicola), and tiny polygala (Polygala smallii).

This species also joins other listed members of the Cicindelinae; there are two endangered tiger beetle species  (Cicindela ohlone and Ellipsoptera nevadica lincolniana) and two threatened species (Ellipsoptera puritana and Habroscelimorpha dorsalis dorsalis).

However, no critical habitat has been proposed or designated at this time:

While the designation of critical habitat is prudent, the Service is delaying a proposed designation at this time and expects to complete work on it by September 30, 2017. In addition, there is a proposal to build two developments in the Richmond Pine Rocklands and the Service continues to work with developers.

It would appear that the interests of a few private individuals at Ram Realty and Miami Wilds LLC are taking precedence to the survival of the Miami tiger beetle, its fellow pine rockland endemic species, and the last 1.8% of the metro Miami-Dade pine rocklands. The publicly available plans released by the Coral Reef Commons and Miami Wilds developers show that un-surveyed pine rocklands and Miami-tiger-beetle occupied habitat, respectively, will be paved over and the stifling development will severely limit any management of the remaining habitat, chiefly by preventing controlled burns which pine rocklands and their inhabitants depend upon.

Despite this shortcomings, I sincerely thank the staff members of the South Florida Ecological Service. I’d also like recognize the efforts of my fellow Petitioners and extend my thanks.

Please stay tuned to this blog for updates on the Miami tiger beetle and its habitat.

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References

Bousquet, Y. 2012. Catalogue of Geadephaga (Coleoptera, Adephaga) of America, north of Mexico. ZooKeys 245:1-1722.

Brzoska, D., C.B. Knisley, and J. Slotten. 2011. Rediscovery of Cicindela scabrosa floridana Cartwright (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) and its elevation to species level. Insecta Mundi 0162:1-7.

Cartwright, O.L. 1939. Eleven new American Coleoptera (Scarabidae, Cicindelidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 32:353-364.

Center for Biological Diversity. 2016. Four Florida Plants Protected Under Endangered Species Act. Press Release. September 28, 2016

Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI). 2010. Pine Rockland, in Guide to the natural communities of Florida: 2010 edition. Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Tallahassee, FL. 8 pp.

Knisley, C.B. 2008. Current status of the “Miami” tiger beetle. Final Report. October 28, 2008.

Knisley, C.B. 2011. Taxonomy, biology, and conservation of the Florida tiger beetle. Final Report to South Florida Ecological Services Office. February 20, 2011.

Knisley, C.B. 2013. Biological studies of the Florida tiger beetle, 2011-2013. Final Report. April 13, 2013.

Knisley, C.B. 2015. Species assessment of the Miami tiger beetle, Cicindelidia floridana. Revised Report. June 6, 2015.

Knisley, C., M. Kippenhan, and D. Brzoska. 2014. Conservation status of United States tiger beetles. Terrestrial Arthropod Reviews. 7: 93-145.

Natureserve 2016. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life. Version 7.0.

Pearson, D.L., C.B. Knisley, and C.J. Kazilek. 2006. A field guide to the tiger beetles of the United States and Canada: Identification, natural history and distribution of the Cicindelinae. Oxford University Press, New York.

Pearson, D.L., C.B. Knisley, D.P. Duran, and C.J. Kazilek. 2015. A field guide to the tiger beetles of the United States and Canada: Identification, natural history and distribution of the Cicindelinae. Second edition. Oxford University Press, New York.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. South Florida Multi-Species Recovery Plan: Appendix C. Species of Concern and their Associated Community Types in South Florida.

URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.


A Second Miami Tiger Beetle Population Discovered

Note: This post was largely written in August, however I held off publishing due to the sensitive nature of this discovery. This Friday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the Miami tiger beetle as an endangered species and announced the existence of a second population of the MTB. With this official confirmation I’m publishing this post in hopes of contributing some context and further information about this population.

The story of the Miami tiger beetle, Cicindela floridana, a beautifully iridescent tiger beetle presumed extinct but rediscovered in 2007 is unique. This fiercely predatory beetle is a south Florida endemic only known from pine rocklands, a habitat once common in Miami-Dade county but, due to extensive development, today only 1.8% of the metro Miami-Dade rocklands remain.

The entomologist Frank N. Young Jr., an 18 year old student at the time, discovered the Miami tiger beetle from pine rocklands in 1934 at a site in northern Miami-Dade county. However, by 1947 this habitat was lost to development as the native pine rocklands were transformed into the neighborhoods of north Miami and Miami Shores (below).

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In 2007, after a 73 year absence and presumed extinction, the Miami tiger beetle was rediscovered near Zoo Miami in pine rocklands. This site is part of the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, the largest contiguous remaining areas of this habitat in metro Miami-Dade. Spurred by this rediscovery entomologists surveyed pine rocklands throughout southern Florida in search of the Miami tiger beetle.

Extensive surveys were conducted in both scrub habitats and most of the pine rockland sites in Miami-Dade, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach Counties (Knisley, 2008). Most were unsuitable probably because they were too densely vegetated or the substrates were mostly oolitic limestone rock with few or no sand patches (Knisley et al. 2014).

Despite these efforts in the years since its remarkable rediscovery the Miami tiger beetle had only been found at a handful of directly adjacent sites in the Richmond Heights pine rocklands. Even the known population is few in number (under a hundred adult beetles observed) and face further threats of vegetation encroachment and potential habitat development (see here for more).

This changed in July when Jimmy Lange, a field botanist at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and Alyssa Dawson, an intern from Ohio University, were surveying an undisclosed patch of pine rocklands for rare plants (namely Brickellia mosieri, an endangered species) when, as Lange describes it, “[i]n my meanderings I was [documenting] other rare species as I encountered them … when I bumped into a tiger beetle.” But this was not just any tiger beetle, Lange and Dawson found three Miami tiger beetles (Cicindela floridana).

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Lange and Dawson’s discovery offers a small boost to the hopes for the survival of the Miami tiger beetle. But even with the discovery of the second population the MTB is still in danger. The MTB habitat, pine rockland, has been extensively developed and today only 1.8% of the metro Miami-Dade pine rocklands remain. These habitats are also under the constant threat of vegetation encroachment primarily due to the lack of controlled burns (which pine rocklands depend upon).

A major question regarding this second population of MTBs is whether the discovery of new populations would alter the expert’s rating of the species as seriously imperiled and  recommendation for formal protections (Knisley et al. 2014). In brief this second population does not significantly alter the Miami tiger beetle’s current standing. First, this “population” is represented by three observed beetles and thus likely does not provide a sufficient number of individuals to contribute to the species survival. Second, Knisley et al. (2014) account for the existence of other populations in their recommendation methods:

Examples of our grading system are as follows: A 1 would be comparable to the NatureServe grade of 1, usually with five or fewer known populations and significant threats; a 1+ would be at the upper range of these factors and 1- at the lower range.

For the 1 +/- grade given by Knisley a species must face significant threats which is absolutely the case for the MTB. Most significantly both populations face the “loss, degradation, and fragmentation” (USFWS) of habitat, primarily from the constant encroachment of vegetation, both ecological succession due the lack of fires and invasive species.

Of particular note the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not release the location of this new population due to the threat of collection:

Tiger beetles are in high demand and avidly collected. We are aware of internet advertisements for the sale and trade of other florida tiger beetles.

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Paving pine rocklands = saving them?

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In a March 7th letter to the editor Ram Realty chairman Peter D. Cummings defiantly responded to the public outcry over Ram’s plans to develop a significant tract of pine rocklands. He claimed that the development of this site in the form of Coral Reef Commons, a mixed-used residential and commercial complex, is the only viable option to preserve the pine rocklands. However, I’ve spent significant time conducting research in the surrounding Richmond Heights pine rocklands and Mr. Cummings’s claims continue to misrepresent the actual state of the Coral Reef Commons (CRC) site and its development. From his letter:

The development of Coral Reef Commons is the last, best hope for preservation of a major portion of the habitat.

This is simply not true. Mr. Cummings can paint a rosy picture of gentle development but Ram’s plans are to develop over two-thirds of the property. This simply does not preserve a significant portion of the critically endangered habitat.

As it currently sits, the area is severely degraded. Calling it pristine pine rockland isn’t accurate; every objective person that has walked the site agrees. It hasn’t been pristine for more than 70 years, since the U.S. government razed the area to build a blimp base during World War II. It is overrun by exotic non-native species that are choking out the native flora…

Yes, the site is degraded, but it is still able to be restored if Ram does not pave over the site. The foundation of pine rocklands is the oolitic limestone substrate and this is virtually intact on the property. The CRC site was not razed by the Navy to build the NAS blimp base; the property was home to various barracks and administrative buildings during and after the war.  The next owner, the University of Miami, grossly mismanaged this area. The present poor condition of the site is due to the lack of any facility or habitat management by the University, not excessive development. The school even denied access requests from myself and other researchers to this and their other properties around Zoo Miami.

Rather than engage in knee-jerk reactions to unfounded claims, conservationists and the Herald should look to the commitment Ram has made to restore and preserve close to 50 percent of the site.

I’ll just let Ram’s actual numbers speak here:

Rams Reality 2

The whole Coral Reef Commons site is 137 acres but Ram’s planned preserves total just 43 acres (not all of it pine rockland) – just over 30% of the property. So, contrary to Ram’s claims, under a third of this property will be preserved.

The new mixed-use community will be developed on a portion of the property that is most degraded — the site of an abandoned incinerator, shells of gutted buildings that once housed labs, abandoned trash piles, roads and monkey cages.

How do they propose to do this? Here is the actual status of the property:

Ram Site pie chart web

Presently 47% of the CRC site is pine rocklands and a further 19% is other, largely hardwood, forest. About 22% of the site is green space, minimally modified from their original state, and a final 12% is heavily modified or developed (buildings, major roads, and parking lots). This is not the heavily developed, hopeless situation the Ram paints.

… Environmentalists want someone to buy the land to restore it, and that is exactly what we are doing.

RAM site 1938 1952 and 2014

On the left is an aerial photograph from 1938 before any development of the CRC site (outlined in red); notice intact pine rockland habitat. In the center is an image from 1952, after the peak of Richmond Naval Air Station. And on the right is a 2014 satellite image (from Google Earth). Notice how little of the overall CRC site has actually been significantly altered.

These pine rocklands have survived comparatively unscathed since the early logging and military developments on the site in the 1940s and these Richmond Heights rocklands represent a quarter of the 1.8% of this habitat left outside the Everglades National Park. Any further development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands and their inhabitants, principally by further fragmenting the remaining rocklands and stifling brush fires, a necessary ecological cycle for survival of the habitat.

The solution is not to develop over two-thirds of the site and its pine rocklands. Under one-eighth of the Coral Reef Commons site has been developed. Perhaps there is a more appropriate use for this rare habitat than yet more development. Let’s restore and preserve the seven-eighths of the property that is undeveloped and constructively use or mitigate the fraction of the property that is already developed. Pine rocklands are a unique and valuable part of Florida’s natural history and are worth preserving.

Notes

Areas for which exact figures were not available were estimated with the polygon tool in Google Earth and the polygon area calculator on earthpoint.us.

References

 URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.


Blight?

[The Committee] accepts the Study identifying approximately 2,146 acres within the unincorporated municipal service area (UMSA), which lie entirely in Commission District 9 represented by Commissioner Dennis C. Moss, to be slum and blighted.

Miami-Dade Legislative Item 142509

This month a Miami-Dade county committee approved a resolution from county commissioner Dennis Moss to designate the Richmond Heights pine rocklands (the largest fragement of pine rocklands outside the Everglades National Park and the only habitat of the Miami tiger beetle) along with the surrounding lands “a slum or blighted area.” This resolution stemmed from a county-commitioned study supplied by the firm Calvin, Giordano & Associates which built a tenuous case that slum or blight conditions exist in and around the Richmond Heights pine rocklands. The Committee forwarded the resolution to the full Board of County Commissioners for consideration:

It is recommended that the Board of County Commissioners … consider taking the following actions:

4. The Board declares and finds that there is a need for a community redevelopment agency to function and carry out the community redevelopment purposes of the Act; and

5. The Board directs the County Mayor or the County Mayor’s designee to prepare a plan of redevelopment for the Area, and to submit the plan of redevelopment to the Board for approval after notice and public hearing.

Should a community redevelopment agency be created, the Area covered will make it the second largest in the County, with only the North Miami Community Redevelopment Agency larger at 3,540 acres. The Study includes the Zoo Miami, Coast Guard, and the former University of Miami properties.

Miami-Dade Legislative Item 142509

The goal in establishing the existence of slum or blight conditions and subsequent community redevelopment agency (CRA) is to create a special tax district¹ which will channel public funds into development of the site. The development in question is the $930 million theme park, Miami Wilds. As I have written previously the construction of this theme park (in its present incarnation) is a serious and unacceptable threat to the Richmond Heights pine rocklands and the survival of numerous endangered species, including the Miami tiger beetle, a candidate for emergency state and federal protection.

The developers, Miami Wilds LLC, have already received approval for an initial $13.5 million in bond funds to replicate the US Coast Guard communications tower array which currently stands in the footprint of the theme park. However, use of this land requires Federal permission and approval of the developer’s plans; approval which has not yet been given.

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The Richmond Heights pine rocklands have survived comparatively unscathed since the since the early development of the site in the 1940s and these lands represent a major portion of the 1.8% of pine rocklands left outside the Everglades National Park. Any further development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands, chiefly by fragmenting the remaining habitat and stifling fires, a necessary ecological cycle for the continued health of the habitats.

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Proper management of pine rockland fragments includes prescribed burning (which can generate heavy amounts of smoke)… Construction of hospitals, schools, apartments, and hotels around [rocklands] should be discouraged because of conflicts with smoke generation during prescribed fires. URS Corporation et al 2007

These current plans for Miami Wilds and Coral Reef Commons will severely fragment the remaining Richmond Heights pine rocklands. Once these rocklands are surrounded by heavy development any prescribed burning will be extraordinarily unlikely.

… maximize open space and limit pollution runoff [around rocklands]. URS Corporation et al 2007

A secondary impact of any development is that without sufficient buffer areas around the rocklands the new fragments will be highly susceptible to pollution and encroachment of non-native and invasive animals and plants from the surrounding.

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The current plans for development do not adequately conserve these imperiled rocklands and are not a reasonable option for the continued survival of this unique habitat and its inhabitants. Over 98% of the Miami-Dade rocklands have been lost to development. There are better options for utilization of the non-rockland areas, options which do not fragment or destroy rocklands, alternatives which provide adequate buffers to facilitate the necessary management of the habitat.

The “blight” resolution has been forwarded to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration and a full public hearing on January 21st.

Local residents are planning a rally for the rocklands on January 17th

The Center for Biological Diversity has a letter to the Miami Board of County Commissioners which you can sign and send in support of preserving the pine rocklands.

View the resolution here. Read the Calvin, Giordano & Associates study here.

Also see the Miami Herald article on the this latest development.

Notes

¹In designating an area as a CRA governing bodies are afforded the opportunity to leverage public financing for the purpose of land acquisition, demolition, housing and infrastructure improvements, environmental remediation, neighborhood enhancement and other similar activities. This is accomplished through a funding mechanism known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF). From MetroZoo Finding of Necessity Study 2014 Update

References

URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.


Revisiting the recently rediscovered C. floridana

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.

Check out Ted’s excellent post on this trip here or check out the photos from my first trip to see this species here.


Presumed extinct, Floridian tiger beetle rediscovered after 73 years

It is about five in the morning on a warm August day and I am sitting in the Richmond International airport. I am waiting to board a flight to Miami, Florida where I will be meeting up with Dr. Barry Knisley, researcher and authority on tiger beetles.

Florida is home to many species of tiger beetles including several endemic to the state. However, the habitats of a number of species are today threatened by urbanization or the development of land for agricultural use, particularly for Florida’s ubiquitous citrus crops. One of these endemic tiger beetles is the strikingly green-colored  floridana form of the minute species Cicindela scabrosa.

This form was first collected in August of 1934 by Frank N. Young and formally described five years later by O.L. Cartwright as a subspecies of Cicindela abdominalis. Cartwright’s description was composed of two brief sentences in the June 1939 Annals of the Entomological Society of America:

Differs from abdominalis in the shinning green color of head, thorax and elytra, the later with purplish reflections posteriorly at the sides, and in the strong deep punctures and fovea of the elytra. The green color will also separate this variety from the variety scabrosa Schaupp.

Additionally, Cartwright notes that Young collected 21 specimens which were divided between museums and private collections:

Holotype and 20 paratypes collected at Miami, Florida, August 9-12, 1934, by Frank Young. Holotype deposited in the U.S. National Museum, paratypes in the collections of California Academy of Science, Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, and in the private collections of F. N. Young, W. M. Gordon, M. A. Cazier, J. W. Angell and the author.

One of the USNM paratypes

Cicindela scabrosa var floridana is a member of a complex of closely related, small cicindelids. The archetypal species in this complex, which also includes C. highlandensis, is Cicindela abdominalis. There has long been much confusion over the relation between these species; at one point there were no less than three synonymous species names for both Cicindela abdominalis and C. scabrosa. In his 1984 treatment of the Cicindela abdominalis complex, Choate elevated Cicindela scabrosa to a full species and placed Cicindela abdominalis floridana as a synonymy of Cicindela scabrosa, attributing the green color to be a sign of recent emergence.

Years after his discovery of C. scabrosa var floridana, in communication with fellow entomologists, Young reported that he collected the specimens in the area surrounding Barry College. Unfortunately, this area, like so much of the neighboring region, had been heavily developed in the intervening time. Several researchers, including Knisley, surveyed numerous Miami-Dade county parks and area preserves for C. scabrosa var floridana but without success.

Approximate view of the original collection site(s) in 1999. Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

In their 2006 field guide to the tiger beetles of North America, Pearson, Knisley, and Kazilek noted:

An isolated population [of C. scabrosa] in the Miami area has been considered as a subspecies, C. scabrosa floridana Cartwright, which is smaller … and distinctly green above. This population … may now be extinct, probably because of habitat destruction and urbanization.

And so with no suitable habitat remaining and no beetles seen since 1934, despite extensive surveys, this form was presumed to be extinct.

But in September of 2007, over 70 years after this species had last been observed in the wild, a population of Cicindela scabrosa var floridana was rediscovered on privately-owned land in the greater Miami area. Jeff Slotten, a lepidopterist, happened across this population while surveying for butterflies and, being familiar with this species, was well aware of the significance of his discovery. He contacted Barry and a fellow tiger beetle enthusiast, David Brzoska; they set about surveying potential habitats and soon found another population at a directly adjacent site.

The area upon which much of present-day Miami sits was once covered by pine rocklands. This fire-dependent community, found on limestone outcroppings, is comprised of a sparse canopy dominated by Florida slash pine, Pinus elliotti var. densa, and a varied understory which includes many endemic plant species. This habitat once stretched from the Florida Keys up to the northern edge of Miami-Dade County, but in the 1940’s the invention and ensuing widespread use of the rock plow marked the destruction of the majority of Floridian pine rockland.

Today, only a fraction of the original Miami pine rockland habitat remains; by some estimates as little as 2%. Moreover, most of these remaining areas are quite small and often widely separated by miles of heavy development. In addition, many of these remaining pine rocklands now face a new danger; due to the lack of fire, they are being overrun by both native and non-native vegetation as the habitats are transitioning to hardwood hammocks.

Shortly after my arrival in Miami, Barry and I are on the road, heading to survey a potential habitat. Unfortunately the most promising area, within a neighborhood park, was an overgrown mess of vines and small hardwood trees. This turns out to be the norm; while we visit several potential habitats, they too are all overgrown. It was evident that vegetation had been growing unchecked for years and no attempt at maintaining these habitats had been made.

We next head to the site where C. scabrosa var floridana was first rediscovered. This area, along with several other parcels of land, is bordered on one side by a highway while a large development wraps around the other sides. Despite this encroachment there remains a sizable area of pine rockland which, thanks to controlled burns, is in exceptional condition.

An open patch of sand, ideal habitat for C. scabrosa var floridana; notice the charred remnants of a tree on the ground.

Barry and I weave through the clumps of saw palmetto toward a sandy exposure and we pause at the edge. Before long there is a hint of movement and a small tiger beetle darts from the base of a blade of grass towards the center of the sandy patch.

There’s a beetle here…

Its coloration is unique; it is dark, not black, but rather a deep iridescent bronzy-green hue. We inspect several other patches and see a fair number of beetles; the temperature is over 90 degrees and the beetles are very active. Most are moving in and out of the sparse patches of shade or sporadically about the sandy areas, occasionally darting after an ant.

Barry watches a patch of habitat for floridana

Trying to photograph one is particularly difficult; not only are the beetles fast and small, but there are also jagged chunks of limestone sticking out of the sandy ground making it difficult to move about. On my hands and knees, I slowly approach a beetle but it flies off. Again I approach a beetle; it also takes flight. At last I come across a more cooperative beetle and manage a couple quick shots before it also darts away.

A male C. scabrosa var floridana

A weathered chunk of limestone sticks out of the sand

The next day Barry and I set out to survey another promising site; this one borders the area where C. scabrosa var floridana was rediscovered. We do notice some suitable habitat, but most of the ground is covered with a layer of pine needles from the dense canopy. For over an hour there is no trace of the beetles; at last we find a more open area near the edge of the trees.As we walk through the low vegetation, first Barry and then I see a flash of movement, as if a tiger beetle were taking flight. However, neither of us get a good look and only when we spot a stationary beetle are we sure of what we saw. After this exciting find we drive to the second site where floridana was rediscovered. This property sits next to the first site and has also been maintained by controlled burning.

But, on the portion of this property bordering the development, there is a considerable amount of encroaching vegetation which threatens to choke out any exposed sandy areas. The last time it was burned was clearly several years prior to our survey and, as one might suspect, we found no beetles in this area. Moving on, Barry and I find a larger patch of habitat and soon catch sight of more beetles. Here the ground is quite rocky and the saw palmettos are tightly packed, so I am unable to get a decent chance to photograph the beetles in their habitat. I settle instead for a few shots of some beetles which Barry nets as we continue the survey.

Slowly moving in towards a beetle

Barry carefully holds a female during the survey

This form is small, with a body length under 1cm.

As it comes closer to mid-afternoon we wrap up the survey and I begin to prepare for my return; though very short, this trip has been particularly productive. My flight leaves Miami International as the sun sets, my goal reached – I have the pictures I hoped for.

Over the past couple of years, Barry has worked along with Brzoska and Slotten in examining several differences between this form and the closely related members of the C. abdominalis complex. Based on morphological, seasonal, and distributional differences, C. scabrosa var floridana has been elevated to a full species, Cicindela floridana, in a soon to be published paper.

A side-by-side comparison of the four species of the C. abdominalis complex (L-R): C. floridana, C. scabrosa, C. abdominalis, C. highlandensis.

A captive C. floridana showing the vivid green color, reduced maculations, and bright red abdomen.

While the populations appear to be stable, this species requires more research and management; particularly, the remaining habitats must be sufficiently maintained. Controlled burns should be regularly conducted, as they are the first and most critical steps toward control of the encroaching vegetation. With proper care and protection this species, can come to thrive again.

Acknowledgments:

Special thanks to Barry Knisley for facilitating my trip to Florida and providing the specimens for the captive and comparative photograph. Also thanks to Art Evans for assistance in accessing the USNM collection.

References:

Cartwright, O.L. 1939. Eleven new American Coleoptera (Scarabidae, Cicindelidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 32:353-364.

Choate, P.M. 1984. A new species of Cicindela Linnaeus (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) from Florida, and elevation of C. abdominalis scabrosa Schaupp to species level. Entomological News 95: 73-82.

Pearson, D.L., Knisley, C.B., Kazilek, C.J. 2006. A field guide to the tiger beetles of the United States and Canada. Oxford University Press, New York 8 + 227pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Multi-Species Recovery Plan for South Florida: Pine Rocklands. www.fws.gov/southeast/vbpdfs/commun/pr.pdf