Protected Status Under the U.S. Endangered Species Act Listed as a federally threatened species for its entire range Connecticut, Maryland and Massachusetts statutes Listed as an endangered species for local conditions
How they got their name Puritan tiger beetle (Cicindela puritana), PTB. Tiger beetles are named for their ferocious hunting behavior: they spot their prey with their large eyes, and sprint to catch it, like tigers. Puritan is in honor of their discovery in Massachusetts, and for the way they seem to pray.
Physical traits They are cold-blooded, terrestrial, invertebrate arthropods. Their size ranges from 12mm. to 14mm (0.5 inch mean size). They have a brown thorax and head with areas of dark greens, browns and bronzes. They have patterned elytra, which are leathery wing covers that protect their wings located beneath. The patterns on these covers are white and symmetrical with a line running parallel to the pincers.
Physical traits Continued … Their large eyes help them spot their prey. Then they move quickly to capture their prey, running after the prey on long slender legs. They are ferocious hunters with a voracious appetite.
Speed Aggressive and highly skilled predators - pound for pound, PTB have been clocked as the fastest animal on earth. If they were the size of a horse they would reach speeds of 200 to 300 miles per hour. In fact, they can run so fast when they hunt that they are unable to process the incoming visual input, becoming temporarily blind, so they must stop to reorient themselves if they miss their target.
Adults Hunting Technique PTB go through bursts of foraging activity, alternating with long periods of standing still. When these speedy animals capture their prey, they grab it with their long, sword like mandibles, crush and tear the insect apart, and then spit up their saliva, which digests their prey even before they suck it up as a gooey stew. The PTB is carnivorous and at least a third level consumer. Their diet consists mainly of small insects, flies and ants.
Predators Dragonflies and robber flies may eat adults. Flies and wasps threaten the larva by laying parasitic eggs in larval burrows. If the fly and wasp eggs survive, the wasp larva attach themselves to the beetle larva and eat them alive. The parasitoid eggs, if successful, will hatch into larvae that attach to the back of the tiger beetle larva and eat it alive, eventually emerging from the burrow as an adult wasp or fly.
Life Cycle The PTB leads a life of remarkable contrasts. The Puritan tiger beetles life cycle is 2 years long. They spend about 96% of these 2 years as a larva. They are larva for 22 months spending much of their lives buried in the sand. The beetles go from eggs to larva and then molt several times to pupa, finally becoming adults.
Life Cycle Continued… During the summer months adults are active. The adults emerge anytime from late June to early August. This leaves them very little time as adults and little time to mate. Mating occurs in the warm summer months, and egg laying occurs in mid August. The females place their eggs one by one just underneath the top layer of sand and then die. Approximately one week after eggs are laid, the eggs hatch into larvae that are about 6 mm long.
Reproduction Females have been observed placing their eggs singly, just below the surface of the sand among scattered plants. In her lifetime, the average female lays between 30 and 100 eggs. The females choice of location for depositing their eggs is very particular, based on the characteristics of the sandy soil. If the local conditions arent suitable for the females needs, the population may abandon a potential habitat site.
The Larvae After about a week, the eggs hatch into larvae about one-third of an inch long. The larvae dig a burrow an inch or two deep in the sand. After 2 to 4 weeks, the larvae molt into a slightly larger second stage, which dig deeper burrows, about 1.5 to 2 feet. By late October, these second-stage larvae close their burrows for the first of their two winter hibernations.
The Larvae continued… In April or early May of the next spring, they open their holes and are active for a month or two, then close their burrows again until early September, when they molt to the third and final larval stage. These larvae remain active until late fall when they close their burrows for their second winter. The following spring, they are active until about June, when they pupate and transform into adults. The adult beetles then emerge from their burrows and begin the cycle again.
The Larvae …concluded PTB larvae are sit and wait predators, They wait in burrows for prey to approach within a few inches of the opening, Once in range, the larvae strike with lightning speed to seize their prey and drag it inside. PTB larva in burrow
Habitat PTB require sand and clay deposits, formed by glacial lakes during the Pleistocene. These deposits are found along the Atlantic coastal plain. This beetle requires sandy beaches along both fresh and brackish water such as rivers, streams and estuaries. The beaches, located under sandy cliffs or at bends in the river, are relatively dry, wide, and free of vegetation.
Habitat continued… These beaches are also where the tiger beetles prey are found. It depends on areas which are disturbed enough to remain relatively open and free of plant cover, but not so disturbed that they wash away. Their habitat can be covered by floods in almost any month of the year.
Choosey Moms choose habitat Reproductive females are instrumental in choosing habitat based on the geological characteristics of potential cliff sites for depositing their eggs. The sites that female Puritan tiger beetles carefully select have the characteristics best suited for the hatching larvae to burrow into the cliffs where they will live most of their lives. Mothers choose the locations where the next generation will live.
Population: Size and Distribution (Population Biology)
Range The PTBs distribution follows the sand and clay deposits formed by glaciers during the last ice age. One area is along the Connecticut River, in New England - the other along the Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland. The populations were separated by 600 miles during the last ice age about 47,500 years ago. The species distribution follows the sand and clay deposits formed by glacial lakes during the Pleistocene.
Chesapeake Bay Populations These two populations are 110 km apart on opposite sides of the bay. The distribution of the PTB along the cliffs of the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay spans about 40 km.
Listed: 8/7/1990 Threatened Status since listing: Declined Chesapeake Bay Population Peak abundance in the early to mid 90s and lowest around 2005. The numbers have increased since 2005 but are still well below peak abundance. There are large year-to- year fluctuations, but the larger pattern is downward
The New England Population They inhabit the beaches along the Connecticut River in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The PTB was reportedly collected in several towns from Middletown to the Massachusetts border in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Presently, they are found at a single cluster of 3 small sites. The total population in New England is less than 1,000; more than 99 percent of the remaining New England population is found only in Connecticut.
Connecticut River Population The total population includes only 2 of 11 historical populations – one in Connecticut and one in Massachusetts. The Connecticut population is much larger than Massachusetts Population fluctuations are similar to those in Maryland
Reason for Decline PTB populations are limited by the availability of sandy beach habitat along rivers, which tends to occur below large river bends. Some sites have been lost due to bank stabilization around cities and by habitat loss due to flooding behind dams. They are also threatened due to heavy recreational use. Adult PTB are most active on the beach at the same time as people are.
What can you do? Plants and animals that live on beaches are under great pressure from development and recreation. Remember that the beach you are on may be some creature's living room--tread softly and treat it with respect. Much of what we know about the PTB is from volunteers who have recently helped with monitoring and translocating larvae. Protecting biodiversity requires everyones help. Learn about threats to this and other species. Todays students are tomorrows teachers and scientists.