The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.


I was doing some aquatic sampling in the pebbly outlet of the Coppermine River I spoke of yesterday.  Searching the shoreline for adult insects on the sandy “mud” flats dotted with dwarf willow and tufts of grass, a brownish twitch of movement at my feet caught my attention.  It was a beetle, about 6 mm long, with a bronzy hue to its iridescent elytra.   It darted quickly, purposefully, across the damp sand. 

I pounced.  (Ok, my index finger and thumb did).   My small quarry in hand, I held it up for a closer inspection, and saw…a TIGER BEETLE???!?!?!    Inwardly, I screamed, “TED!  I CAUGHT A TIGER BEETLE!”  I hurriedly dropped it into a vial.  Secure in the knowledge that it was well and truly caught, I took a better look.  Hm.  The body was chunkier, less elongate than most tiger beetles I’ve seen.  The elytra were covered with a beautiful checkerboard pattern of raised rectangular dark patches and lighter-coloured, depressions (foveae) in between.  The entire critter gleamed in the sun like a jewel.  Was it a tiger beetle?  That face, that head…it HAD to be a tiger beetle! (I mean, jeez, I’m way the heck up north, surely some things look a little different up here, right?)

Excited, I spent the next hour and a half scouring the shoreline for more.  I caught about a dozen in that time, all with my fingers.  Strange, I thought.  What happened to the mad dashes and bursts of rapid flight I was used to?  Huh.  Well, there are flightless tigers, right? 

Most of the beetles I nabbed were the bronzy-copper colour pictured above, but I found two other (morphs?) (species?) as well.  The first was this green variety:

And the other, of which I only found one, was this spectacular crimson specimen:

Immensely pleased with my find, I practically skipped back to my apartment (as much as one could possibly skip whilst driving her Honda over bumpy tundra).  I immediately sat down at my laptop and clicked the  BugGuide  link in my favourites list to see if I could figure out just who these enigmatic little characters might be. 

About five minutes later, I realized I’d been fooled.  These were not the tiger beetles I wanted them so badly to be.  Rather, they were representatives of a very Cicindela-like Carabid subfamily, Elaphrinae (Elaphrus sp.): the Marsh Ground Beetles.   Poorly drained, wet soils near water’s edge is their preferred habitat, and exactly where I found mine:

Right on that sandy strip between the water and the willows; I did look among the vegetation as well but didn’t have as much luck there as simply on the exposed sand. 

So, not tiger beetles.  ~Sigh~  The blow is softened, however, by the fact that this is my first encounter with this particular subfamily of ground beetles. 

So, Ted, I guess I’ll just have to keep looking.


19 responses to “I CAUGHT TIGER BEE…awwwwww

  1. dragonflywoman July 6, 2010 at 11:46 PM

    They’re still absolutely gorgeous though! I’m so jealous that you have these in your collection, though we do have our own spectacular insects in AZ too.

    Are you going to write about what you’re doing your aquatic sampling for? I’m dying to know what you’re doing with the aquatic stuff!

    • TGIQ July 7, 2010 at 4:40 PM

      You also have the benefit of a much longer field season!

      I am going to write about the sampling, very soon. Stay tuned!

      • dragonflywoman July 8, 2010 at 1:32 PM

        Sweet! I look forward to the sampling post! And yes, we do have a much longer field season, but the trade off is working outside in the sun for hours when it’s 110 degrees outside. Ugh…

  2. Ted C. MacRae July 7, 2010 at 2:02 AM

    Heh! I remember being fooled by these in Systematics 301. I don’t know too much about Elaphrus, but I’d bet up north there might be some cool (he he!) species. I don’t note any apparent differences between your different color morphs, so I suspect they represent a single species.

    I would expect you to keep looking even if this was a tiger beetle 🙂

    • TGIQ July 7, 2010 at 4:42 PM

      Glad I’m not the only one fooled…I’ve never come across these before, either in courses, collections or the field. I managed to snag a microscope from the high school today, so I’m going to have a closer look, but I couldn’t distinguish any major differences either yesterday.

      And, of course, I’ll keep looking for tigers. 🙂

  3. Morgan Jackson July 7, 2010 at 7:46 AM

    Maybe not exactly what you wanted, but they certainly make a good case for why the tiger beetles are now placed in the Carabidae! Very cool beetles, and wicked colour morphs!

  4. Steve Willson July 7, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    Not what you thought, but really a neat looking beetle. In light of your expectations, excitement of discovery and subsequent realization of the truth – you might call these Fools Gold Beetles.

  5. myrmecos July 7, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    I have inside information that a prominent yet un-named Coleopterist thought, as a teenager, that he’d discovered a whole new genus of Tiger Beetle on collecting Elaphrus for the first time. It didn’t key out, you see.

    So you’re not alone!

    • TGIQ July 7, 2010 at 4:47 PM

      Ha! But, um, actually, that makes me feel a little better about my own over-exuberance (I was dreamily imagining good species names for my wicked-cool “new” discovery as I scooped them off the beach *blush*)

  6. Andrea J. July 7, 2010 at 10:23 PM

    You and I are in the same boat of lacking cicindelines — I had a tiger beetle in my hand yesterday, only to have the little bugger worm his way out and fly off before I had a chance to put him somewhere safe.

    This should probably be a lesson to me about always keeping a kill jar on hand, but that might lose me credibility as a herpetologist …

    Your lack of tiger beetles, while sad, is definitely much more awesome than mine.

  7. peteryeeles July 7, 2010 at 11:37 PM

    I would have completely guessed at tiger beetle too. Those eyes, that thorax… c’mon!

    That crimson specimen is a stunner! I’m sure someone with more know-how than I could confirm.. but some carabids have a red hue when they are newly eclosed (the big black mountain carabids here often are).

    • TGIQ July 8, 2010 at 12:08 AM

      Those eyes, that thorax… c’mon!

      Precisely! It’s false adverisement, I say! I’ve not heard of crimson/red Carabids before…hmm…something interesting to look into!

  8. allthingsbiological July 22, 2010 at 2:14 PM

    Fascinating! I just took a look through my image set and now need to reclassify 🙂 . This is really what the whole blogosphere thing is all about. Thanks for putting up this entry. I love your blog!

  9. Jon Quist August 21, 2011 at 7:31 PM

    Well if you ask me aside from most other coleopterists, these guys are much cooler 😀

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