Photo: Ted Macrae, Beetles in the Bush
Several times in the last month, I’ve seen a scary looking little fella in the woods around the watershed. A big, shiny green beetle, he seemed very at home on the ground, and so initially I thought he was some sort of carrion beetle I hadn’t seen before. I’d seen this type of beetle around water in the same places I’ve seen carrion beetles, and so it seemed like a reasonable guess after the first time I saw him (he was in my sight for about 10 seconds). Getting an idea of its identity was a challenge each time - the big bug just wouldn't stop moving.
But after a little digging (the metaphorical kind), I figured out that what I had seen was actually a tiger beetle, a distant cousin of the carrion beetle (and not looking at all like our most common carrion beetle species). Tiger beetles are a big family of aggressive, predatory beetles who tend to live near water. In Maryland, we have several species of native tiger beetles, ranging from the dubiously rare Puritan Tiger Beetle to a variety of very common and nearly identical brownish-green species of Tiger Beetles with white or cream spots.
Also relatively common, though, is the 6-Spotted Tiger Beetle, who makes a home in several of the South River watershed's smaller creeks and wetlands. The 6-spotted Tiger Beetle is a beautiful metallic green and spends equal time walking and flying. These beetles live in seemingly odd places - floodplains where bare sand is piled up, muddy creek banks, and other areas with loose soil and sparse vegetation (but surrounded by dense vegetation), usually near water.
Photo: University of Kentucky
According to the Penn State University Extension Service, predatory beetles like the 6-Spotted Tiger feed on a wide variety of pesty bugs, from crickets to fleas and grasshoppers to gnats. Large tiger beetles even feed on spiders. If that diet doesn't sound like a good enough reason to keep tiger beetles around, their ideal habitat makes it easy - tiger beetles prefer areas with variable plant life, a little loose soil and little to no human disturbance. For this reason, they are commonly found on the edge of residential yards and farm fields.
The next time you see a green flash zipping around your ankles - don't worry - the tiger beetle is on patrol!