What Are Tiger Beetles Are they Good For The Garden?

If you look close enough, there’s a lot of life in your garden. There are plants and dozens of species of insects, arachnids, and other creatures.

Some of these are beneficial garden insects for your garden, while others will harm it.

tiger beetle feeding on antsPin

Beetles are notorious for being on both sides of the fence, with ladybugs preying on pests while flea beetles quickly defoliate your crops.

But one type of beetle has been gaining much more attention in recent years.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the tiger beetle and its role in your garden.

What Are Tiger Beetles, And Are They Good For The Garden?

Tiger beetles are an important addition to your garden, although you might not even notice them at first.

Tiger Beetles 101

Tiger beetles hail from the Cicindelidae family, which was considered a subfamily of Carabidae (the ground beetle family). However, it was promoted to its own family in scientific circles after 2020.

There are currently more than 2,600 known species and subspecies, over 100 natives of North America.

Most measure only around ½ to ¾” inches long, but a handful of North American species can reach a body size of 2” inches in length. 

These beetles have oval abdomens, much like other large beetles but are easily distinguished by their black bodies and their heads, which are wider than their thorax and usually feature bulging eyes.

Long legs allow the tiger beetle to race across the ground, with the Australian Rivacindela hudsoni able to run at a blistering 5.6 miles per hour.

Large mandibles allow them to capture prey and come in a wide range of colors, from black to metallic or patterned.

Some species are diurnal, while others are nocturnal, with each genera tending to stick to one or the other.

Tiger beetle adults have a peculiar way of chasing their prey. They’ll dart towards the prey, antennae held rigidly forward. After a moment, they’ll stop, reorient themselves, then dart again.

While we’re not entirely sure why this is, it’s largely believed that the tiger beetle’s speed is so fast that its brain can’t keep up with the amount of visual information and must pause to process it.

Moreover, tiger beetles have similar feeding habits to spiders. They inject digestive enzymes like spiders to suck out bodily fluids. It’s also estimated that they can consume up to their body weight daily.

They’re also extremely agile fliers, able to dart about with reaction times comparable to houseflies. The adult flight season extends throughout October.

They have a preference for sandy ground, and examples of suitable beetle habitats include forest paths, lakes, sand dunes, and even along the seashore.

While most prefer life on the ground, some tropical species have taken to life in the trees.

Meanwhile, their larvae (one of several types sometimes called doodlebugs) live in cylindrical burrows in the ground that can be as much as 3’ feet deep.

They have large heads with pronounced mandibles and a humped back which they can use to suddenly flip around inside the burrow entrance when prey comes too close.

The larvae are tan to a pale near-white in coloration and have six legs, unlike many other kinds of grub.

The Pros Of Having Tiger Beetles In The Garden

Tiger beetle adults are unstoppable hunters in both their larval and adult stages. 

Despite their fierce appearance, they’re generally docile and only bite if handled. If approached, they’ll usually either sprint away or take flight.

Tiger beetle larvae hunt a wide range of ground-based pests, including ants, larvae of other species, and other beetle larva species.

A single larvae will continue hunting for 1 to 3 years before reaching the pupal stage, depending on the species.

As an adult, the tiger beetle will also hunt grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, mosquitoes, flies, potato beetle, common stalk borer, and many other common invasive species.

In fact, adult tiger beetles and their close cousins, the ground beetles, are among the few predator insects that will hunt and eat snails and slugs!

Many species will live a total of 3 to 5 years, meaning you could have some long-term allies.

The adult beetles themselves do no damage to your plants or garden, although the larval burrows may be visible.

Since they tend to be shy, you’ll rarely encounter them, but they do an amazing job of keeping your garden safe.

At worst, you may have a few buzzing around your porch light at night, but they’ll likely eat a variety of insects in the process.

Four Notable Species

We could be here all day talking about the many species of tiger beetle that lives in the US, but a few have garnered special attention due to their appearance or unique traits.

Here are four fascinating tiger beetle species, where they live, and why they stand out.

Eastern Beach Tiger Beetle (Habroscelimorpha Dorsalis)

Formerly classified as Cicindela dorsalis, this species has three subspecies and can be found along fine-sanded beaches from South Carolina down to Florida and along the Gulf Coast to Mexico.

A fourth subspecies, Habroscelimorpha dorsalis dorsalis, is known as the northeastern beach tiger beetle and is currently endangered.

It only still exists in Martha’s Vineyard, Chesapeake Bay, and Virginia and is the largest of the four.

The comoration has beautiful white to tan elytra, with a bronze head and thorax, and chestnut lines, occasionally also with patches of green.

The other notable subspecies is Habroscelimorpha dorsalis media, whose larvae are natural gymnasts.

They have the ability to spring into the air, roll their body into a wheel, and roll across the beach aided by the wind, sometimes traveling as far as 200’ feet!

If you have a beachfront property and want to attract this species, you will need to ensure the beach is kept as natural as possible and no vehicles are allowed on it.

Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela Punctulata)

There are three subspecies of this particular tiger beetle, two of which live in the US.

Cicindela punctulata chihuahuae is native to eastern Chihuahua and the southwestern US.

They’re green to greenish-blue and have little or no spotting.

Meanwhile, Cicindela punctulata punctulata can be found throughout most of the US, from Texas and Montana all the way to the east coast.

It tends to be grey-brown and usually has small white spots.

This species is often found along sidewalks, open pastures, or other disturbed areas.

It has a very curious trait that makes it especially notable – it releases a scent that is often described as smelling like Juicy Fruit gum.

Puritan Tiger Beetle (Cicindela Puritana)

Currently listed as a threatened species, the puritan tiger beetle is only found on the sandy shores of Massechusettes, Connecticut, and Maryland (in the latter, of which they can be found as far as 26 miles inland).

They’re bronze-brown to green with cream markings along the elytra edges and a metallic blue underside.

Thinner and shinier than many other tiger beetle species, the puritan tiger beetle is also among the fastest, which helps it catch a varied diet of amphipods, ants, beach arthropods, fleas, flies, lice, and small invertebrates.

One curious fact about the puritan beetle is that the populations in each state behave differently, including where and how they hunt.

They are also sometimes referred to as Ellipsoptera puritana.

Sadly, very little else is known of this beneficial insect because of its shrinking population, but you might be lucky enough to entice one to your garden if you live on the coast.

Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela Sexguttata)

This species is around ½ to ⅝” inches long and can be found along the Eastern US from Ontario and Rhode Island to Kentucky and as far west as Minnesota.

It gets its name from the little white spots around the elytra (wing casings), although the exact number of spots (or whether there are any at all) can vary.

You can easily spot Cicindela sexguttata thanks to its metallic blue-green to metallic green body.

Its preferred diet is small arthropods, although it will also munch on other critters.

How To Attract Tiger Beetles

There are a few things you can do to encourage the tiger beetle population to come into your garden.

You will need to keep the beach as natural as possible for beachfront properties and prevent vehicles from driving on it.

Tiger beetles can be very sensitive to beach development, so it’s important to give them a safe haven.

They will often wander into your garden to grab a snack before returning to the sand.

Inland species are a little easier to attract. You will want to provide some ground cover, such as large stones or bits of wood.

Mulch is also very popular for these beetles, who prefer to hide in slightly moist soil when they’re not active (and to avoid predators).

They’ll also take shelter under groundcover plants and take up residence in lawns only if they’re kept at 2 ½ to 3” inches high.

No particular plants attract them, but having a wide variety tells them there may be good hunting available.

Once tiger beetles find your garden, they’ll stick around as long as there’s food, shelter, and a water source.

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