Monday, September 3, 2012

A Tiger Beetle, not exactly glowing, but with a very long name

Kirby's Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle Cicindela (Cicindela) tranquebarica kirbyi LeConte, 1866
In the previous post we took a look at a fairly diverse family of flies where most were obscure and lacked common names. Today we have the cultural opposite: Tiger Beetles! Here every species has a common name and many "species" are subdivided into 'subspecies' with their own additional name. Ours is most impressively endowed as Kirby's Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle Cicindela (Cicindela) tranquebarica kirbyi LeConte, 1866.
Iridescence at a distance = crypsis
I'm not sure why tiger beetles are so beloved, but the tribe Cicindelini are called Flashy Tiger Beetles, so I suppose their metallic glitter is part of the allure. Many are very brightly coloured in metallic greens, coppers, and reds. Linnaeus named the genus Cicindela from the Latin for a 'glow worm', so I suspect even he found them showy. And Tiger Beetles are both aggressive predators and on the largish side - often 2-3 cm in length.
Not especially showy, but large enough to be seen and fleet enough to be fun chasing
Part of their allure may be that many are hard to find and not easy to catch. In spite of all their glitter, many blend into their habitats very well.  And Tiger Beetles are fast! So, gaudy, diverse, fast, and only active when the sun is shining. Pretty much the butterflies of the beetle world and with the added attraction of being deadly hunters of other insects. If you see an entomologist dashing madly about with a net, and no butterflies are in evidence, they may well be after tiger beetles. I suppose I should read John Acorn's book on these beetles. But, alas, it is at the lab, so my Labour Day afternoon must be spent on more mundane matters.

Acorn, John. 2001. Tiger Beetles of Alberta: Killers on the Clay, Stalkers on the Sand. University of Alberta Press.

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