By Mary Alice Hartsock
Anyone can be a naturalist. On the Academy Blog, our scientists and experts share their knowledge to help you explore the natural world around you. Below, Entomology Collection Manager Jason Weintraub suggests you take a spring stroll through the forest to find the six-spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela sexguttata).
Recognized by its long legs, white mandibles, and shimmery, metallic green or blue-green elytra (the hardened forewings, i.e., wing covers), the adult six-spotted tiger beetle is approximately one-half inch long. Contrary to its name, this tiger beetle can have zero, two, four, or six white spots on its elytra, Weintraub says. More widespread than other tiger beetle species, this generally solitary beetle is common in hardwood and open pine forests in the U.S. east of the Great Plains, except for the Gulf Coast and Florida. It lives on silty clay or sandy soil and may be found hunting for prey in sunny spots on the forest floor, along trails, or at the forest edge.
The six-spotted tiger beetle feeds on a wide variety of arthropods, including other beetle species, insect larvae, ants, crickets, grasshoppers, and spiders. In fact, the tiger beetle is among the fastest terrestrial insects on Earth, ambushing its prey while foraging for food on open ground or under leaf litter on the forest floor. It flies in quick, short bursts when chased by predators such as birds or dragonflies. Its shiny body may help it evade predators as it flies through the dappled light in the forest understory.
To find this common beetle in the Philadelphia area, Weintraub suggests taking a trip to the woodland and forested areas of Fairmount Park on an April or May morning when the weather is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
In Delaware and the southernmost counties of New Jersey, consider taking this trip on the first warm days in early April. Stick to forest trails, and seek out fallen logs in areas where the sun is shining through gaps in the forest canopy. Look carefully and quietly, as the tiger beetle is bound to spot you and fly quickly ahead of you on the path!
Check out more articles on bugs on the Academy blog. And save the date for the opening of Backyard Adventures, where you can leap into a garden of wonders and experience the magic of a special backyard world. As you ride the bee bike, collect nectar, check out a food web pond, copy critter calls, and even dress up like living creatures, you’ll uncover surprising details about how organisms live and interact in their environments. You can even become a mechanic or engineer by learning the feats of construction that go into building a shed, solving the paver puzzle, and playing garden mini-golf. Figure out how to turn your own garden into a mini-exhibit—you’ll discover more science in your backyard than you’ll ever imagine! Opening weekend is Saturday and Sunday, June 10 and 11.
A version of this article originally appeared in the spring 2012 issue of Academy Frontiers.