We may not live in the deepest, darkest jungle, but that doesn’t stop me from hunting tigers—tiger beetles, that is. Last year, I wrote about my first tiger beetle hunt. Earlier this month we repeated the adventure.
The weather on the previous day was so extreme, we almost canceled the trip. But by Saturday morning, the 50 mile an hour winds had died down, the snow fizzled out as I dipped below the 6,500 elevation level, and the day turned out to be truly spectacular. Baby blue skies, a delicate wafting of air, and 60 degree sunshine. You’ve got to love springtime in Colorado! (April’s weather is easily summed up by the two pairs of shoes parked at our back door—snow boots and flip flops.)
We were a mixed group—some birders, some members of the Mile High Bug Club—but we were all fascinated by nature in all her myriad forms. Our destination was the banks of the Arkansas River, just below the dam at Lake Pueblo State Park. An unpaved foot trail follows the river, allowing access for fishing, and providing just the right habitat for five species of tiger beetle.
We had only been walking a minute or two before we spotted the first species—the aptly named Bronzed Tiger Beetle. This beetle prefers the sand immediately adjacent to the water, perhaps so they can work on their tans. Their bodies are decorated with darker brown scrollwork, glinting with metallic bronze. We watched them hurry back and forth, seeking ants and other prey. Every so often, one would take to the air in a flurry of wings, moving so quickly it was hard to keep them in view.
As soon as we looked up from watching these beetles, we came across the next species—the Green Claybank. Glinting in the sun, their iridescent, metallic green carapaces were easy to spot. This species seems to be more tolerant of observers, and I was able to inch closer for a series of photographs.
At first glance, it appeared that many of the beetles were mating—expected behavior this time of year. But then I realized that no, they were just holding on. Eric, our trip leader, explained that they had probably already mated. Now, the males were likely guarding the females to make sure no one else mated with them before the eggs were laid. If we got too close, the male would let go, allowing both beetles to fly to safety. However, once they had landed some distance away, they regrouped, with the male resumed his guarding position.
The next beetles we encountered looked like belated Christmas decorations, with their emerald green heads and bright red wing covers. Their name suits them—Festive Tiger Beetle. These were much more skittish and I had a hard time getting a decent photo, even lying on the dirt and creeping forward on my belly. (And Pete wonders why I come home so filthy!) A number of these colorful beetles had staked out the abundant ant hills, a plentiful source of breakfast.
When I first saw the Oblique-lined Tiger Beetles, I mistook them for more Bronzed Tiger Beetles, as their coloring is very similar. However, as their name suggests, the have diagonal lines rather than scrolls—and they seemed slightly larger, too. In addition, they prefer higher ground, farther from the river’s edge. It was interesting comparing the different species, so see how they avoid competition. An abundance of food helps too.
I didn’t get a photo of the last species, the Splendid Tiger Beetle. In fact, not all of us even saw it. You’ll have to use your imagination—it’s similar to the Festive beetles, but the red is duller and outlined with green.
As I watched these aggressive killers go about their business, I was grateful that they’re only a half inch or so in length. Their jaws are the stuff of nightmares, and they rank as the world’s fastest insects. Imagine if they were as big as cows or horses!
Hunting Tiger Beetles is the perfect excuse to get outside, enjoy like-minded people, and revel in the spring weather. Plus, we also saw other insects and spiders, a couple of lizard species, and a good variety of birds. As my stress levels dropped, I could feel the tension leaving my shoulders. There’s something therapeutic about watching nature wake up after a long winter.