Photo © Rob Curtis / The Early Birder
SIX-SPOTTED TIGER BEETLE
Tiger beetles stalk their prey in Texas forests and shorelines.
By Ross C. Winton
Most people don’t believe me when I tell them we have tigers in Texas. Our Texas tigers have stripes and hair, are voracious predators and sport six legs. That’s right, six legs.
Of course, I’m not talking about big cats but, rather, tiger beetles. These small insects live in a variety of habitats from sand dunes to the shorelines of rivers and ponds, and can be found across the entire state. Texas boasts its own species that are found nowhere else in the world.
Tiger beetles are a type of ground beetle, and they spend most of their time searching along dune faces and forest floors for prey. Like tigers, they will often stalk their prey, or they may lie in wait for their next meal — in this case, smaller insects — to wander into their territory. Their large eyes and jaws allow them to quickly spot and capture prey; their long legs enable them to move quickly to chase or ambush. While they spend most of their life on the ground, they are capable of flying. When disturbed along a hiking trail or open space, tiger beetles will take a short burst of flight to evade your footsteps.
Texas is home to more than 60 species and subspecies of tiger beetles, and new species are still being discovered. In true Texas style, the largest of the tiger beetles in the Western Hemisphere is found only in our state. Amblycheila hoversoni, the South Texas giant tiger beetle, can be over an inch and a half long and is found in the thorn-scrub habitats of South and West Texas. This nocturnal beetle often spends the daylight hours in large mammal burrows. Despite its size, this species was discovered only in 1990.
One of Texas’ newest species is a small, flightless tiger beetle that is found at the Chaparral Wildlife Management Area in South Texas. The species, Dromochorus chaparralensis, is named after the WMA and its mesquite-chaparral plant community. Not to be outdone, state parks can also claim a unique new species of tiger beetle. Dromochorus knisleyi is found only in proximity to Pedernales Falls State Park; it is also likely to be found in other areas with juniper-oak woodlands typical of the Edwards Plateau. In total, four new species of dromo tiger beetles were documented from Texas in late 2018.
If you want to get out and spot some of Texas’ tigers, they can often be found active after a rain or on the shorelines of lakes and rivers from spring through fall. You can also head to some of our state parks and wildlife management areas or other open spaces to see some of Texas’ newest species or the many other beautiful species found throughout our state.