Tiger Beetles of Spring Green Prairie

Spring Green Prairie is a unique place in many ways, but one thing that few people may know about the prairie is that it is home to 9 (and possibly 10) of Wisconsin’s 16 species of tiger beetles. These tiny creatures are one more reason The Nature Conservancy has worked to protect “the Wisconsin Desert” since 1971. If you visit, don’t worry about stepping on them as you walk down the trail. As you’ll read, they move pretty fast!

Likely named after the tiger for their similar predatory habits, this six-spotted tiger beetle and other species are some of the most aggressive invertebrates at the preserve.

Adult tiger beetles like this oblique-lined tiger beetle are fast runners, but they have to stop frequently because they run so fast they can’t see their prey.

When festive tiger beetles and other adult tiger beetles spot prey, they stop and wait quietly for more movement. Then they run the ant, spider or fly down, grab it with their mandibles and voilá … lunch.

A new species of tiger beetle, the common claybank tiger beetle, was just discovered at Spring Green Prairie this spring by Alex Harman. While tiger beetles are excellent hunters, they are also hunted by birds, lizards and other animals. They rely on excellent vision and fast running to make a quick getaway.

The punctured tiger beetle is right at home here at Spring Green Prairie, but it is one of the widest ranging of the tiger beetles and can also be found on city lawns, sidewalks, roadside ditches and crop fields.

The Virginia metallic tiger beetle is one of the rarest tiger beetles in Wisconsin. It is large, compared to other tiger beetles, rarely flies and is nocturnal.

While adult tiger beetles like this big sand tiger beetle are swift runners, their larvae are sedentary predators, waiting in their burrows with jaws agape for passing prey.

To keep cool on hot days, tiger beetles like this splendid tiger beetle extend their long legs to keep their bodies just above the layer of hot air next to the sand, a behavior called “stilting.”

Unlike some tiger beetles that are strictly nocturnal, bronzed tiger beetles are out and about both day and night, and they tend to be fairly gregarious, swarming together in large numbers.

Living up to its name, the ghost tiger beetle has not been reported at Spring Green Prairie for many years. This is understandable as it is solitary and generally present in low numbers. And it blends into its sandy home extremely well!

Special thanks to photographer Mike McDowell, who captured these aggressive hunters close-up and personal with his Nikon 1 V1 DSLM digital camera and a Tamron 60mm 1:1 macro lens. He took all of the photos in this slideshow at Spring Green Prairie except for the ghost tiger beetle, which he photographed near Buena Vista Grasslands, and the image of the common claybank tiger beetle, which was taken by Alex Harman.

Learn more about Spring Green Prairie and plan a visit!


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