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Tiger beetles

Tiger beetles are beneficial insects, known throughout the world. There are 2,600 known species and about 100 species in North America. All species belong to the Subfamily Cicindelinae, which was discovered by Latreille in 1802. These ‘garden good guys’ live along shorelines, lakebeds, sand dunes, clay banks and woodland paths. It sounds like they would love Chicago, so welcome them when you see them in your Chicago garden.

Summer in the forest preserves
Photo by Elaine C. Shigley

These beetles are as stunningly beautiful as monarch butterflies. Some species have metallic or gleaming blue, green or bronze hoods with decorative stripes or spots. They have heads broader than their thorax, big spherical eyes, sizable arched mandibles, long legs and lengthy antenna. Cicindelinae hirticollis, an American species, has tiny hairs growing from its neck.

An amazing fact about tiger beetles is their running speed. With their antenna rigid and straight in front of them, they run 5.6 mph over the ground, which doesn’t sound fast until you put it into perspective. For example, they can run 120 body lengths in a second. They run the equivalent of a human running 480 miles per hour. In fact, they run so fast that their eyes can’t keep up with the sensory images, and literally they can’t see so they have to stop frequently and start running again.

Tiger beetles capture insect pests that wander over the ground during the day or at night, depending on their species. Besides running, they can also flip over backwards in their pursuits for food. They lunge and grab their prey like tigers, devouring them in a variety of ways.

The garden pests that tiger beetles enjoy as food include ants, beetles, caterpillars, flies and spiders. They also eat grasshopper nymphs and even small land-dwelling crustaceans. After dinner, they return to their cylindrical burrows over three feet underground.

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