JUNE
1988

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

06-03-88

TIGERS OF THE INSECT WORLD

To most people, the tiger is a ferocious animal, a blood-thirsty carnivore.  So it is in the insect world.  Tiger beetles are aptly named.  They are among the most vicious of insects.

Tiger beetles feed on other insects.  They have large sharply-pointed jaws and large eyes, the better to spot their prey.

They capture most of their prey by running.  Tiger beetles can run at speeds of up to 60 centimeters in a second, or nearly 1.5 miles per hour.  Not so great, you say?  Well think about that speed in terms of body length.  A tiger beetle is about ½ inch long.  A race horse about 8 feet long would have to run about 250 miles per hour to cover its body length as speedily as does a tiger beetle!

Tiger beetles like to hunt in open spaces, where speed is useful.  Once a tiger beetle catches an insect, its eating habits live up to its name.  Tiger beetles seize the prey in their jaws and bang the unfortunate victim against the ground until dead.  Then the tiger beetle sucks the juices from its prey.  For dessert the tiger beetle may just proceed to chew some of the parts of the insect's shell.

The young of tiger beetles are at least as proficient as their parents in procuring food.  However, lacking the wings and feet of the adults, the larvae resort to trickery.

Tiger beetle larvae live in the soil where they construct a burrow.  A larva climbs to the mouth of the burrow and places its head, which is mostly jaws, out through the opening.  When a potential meal passes close by, the larva rushes out, captures the prey and pulls it back into the burrow.  Once inside the burrow, the juvenile tiger beetle may retreat to the deep dark depths of the inner sanctum to dine.

Tiger beetles are not often observed.  Primarily because they frequently fly away when people approach.  Apparently we are too large to qualify as a potential meal.  However, many tiger beetles have beautiful iridescent green and blue colors and are quite showy.

Next time you are walking in an area without vegetation, such as on a dirt path, a sandy beach or even near a log in a sunny spot in the woods, keep an eye open.  A few feet ahead you might spy a tiger beetle.  With a little patience you might even observe a tiger beetle stalk and capture prey.  You will then appreciate why these insects are called tiger beetles.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox