Thursday, April 5, 2012

Endangered Species of the Week–Puritan Tiger Beetle (Cicindela puritana)

Puritan tiger beetle
from U.S. FWS
This week’s endangered species is the Puritan tiger beetle, which was Federally listed as endangered in 1990.  This tiny beetle, measuring just 1/2 inch in length, is found in only two places on Earth:  in Maryland along the Chesapeake Bay and in New England along the Connecticut river.  Puritan tiger beetles are found on beaches and eroding cliffs, where they go through their two year life-cycles.  In June and July,   the adult beetles emerge from their burrows in the sand to mate along the beaches.  Females then move up the cliffs and dig burrows in which to lay their eggs.  The eggs hatch, and then the tiger beetle goes through three larval stages and eventually emerges as an adult.  Thus, eroding cliff faces are critical to survival of this beetle species.

Natural threats to the Puritan tiger beetle include flooding, parasites, and other insect predators.  More critical are the man-made threats – habitat loss due to shoreline development and bluff stabilization.  In the Chesapeake Bay area, conflicts between homeowners and wildlife managers have occurred.  Both sides are working hard to resolve these issues by working on compromises, including offshore segmented breakwaters and special geotextile materials on cliffs, but this is a very controversial issue in the Chesapeake Bay.  Efforts to protect the beetle include scientific studies into the ideal habitat for the beetles, removal of vegetation from habitat sites, translocation of larvae, and propagation of larvae.

So why do we even care about this tiny little beetle whose need for eroding cliff habitat threatens homes in the Chesapeake Bay area?  Scientists often say that these beetles, and other small species like them, act as “canaries in the coalmine” telling us about the health of the entire ecosystem.  As stated on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website:
“The vast majority of life on earth is made up of plants and invertebrates, like insects. Without these groups, ecosystems would collapse (no plants to eat; no insects to pollinate them). Puritan tiger beetles are a key predator (eats other insects and crustaceans) in its cliff habitat and is, in turn, preyed upon by other insects and birds. And, to the extent that its presence has protected the existence of natural cliffs, it has also protected the habitat of King Fishers, Bank Swallows, and many insect species.”


  1. It's the Puritan Tiger Beetle's theology that I have a problem with...

  2. But think how tiny those little bibles would have to be in order to show them the error of their ways...