A Dazzling Green Beetle: Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

For the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing dazzling green Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (Cicindela sexguttata) along wooded trails, and even on the paths through my shade garden.  I think of these brightly colored beetles as one of the harbingers of spring. They are most commonly seen from spring through early summer in openings in or next to wooded areas.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

This eye-catching beetle is named for the spots on its elytra (outer wings), although the number of spots is variable; an individual may have more or less than six spots.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) with 6 spots

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) with 8 spots

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) with 8 spots

Sometimes called the Six-spotted Green Tiger Beetle, its coloration is most often a vivid metallic emerald green, but in some individuals it may take on a bluish hue.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) with bluish coloration

Their large eyes, long legs and sickle-shaped mandibles are characteristic of the tiger beetles.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata). The large eyes, long legs and white sickle-shaped mandibles crossed in front of its head are characteristic of tiger beetles.

When I see a Six-spotted Tiger Beetle, it’s often because it spotted me first.  Their color lets them blend in when they are resting on foliage.  I see them when they dash ahead of me along a trail, stopping after a few feet, always keeping some distance between us unless I approach very slowly and carefully.  The beetles’ large eyes give them a broad field of view, the better to see their prey and avoid predators, which include robber flies, dragonflies, other insects, birds and small mammals.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetles are carnivores.  They eat various insects and other arthropods, such as spiders.  The beetles capture their prey with their large, white, ferocious-looking mandibles.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) with prey

Even as larva, tiger beetles feed themselves by hunting for their own insect meals. Female tiger beetles dig holes in the ground to lay their eggs, one egg per hole, then the hole is covered with soil.  When the larvae hatch, they enlarge their underground tunnel and stay just below the ground level opening, waiting for a hapless insect to walk by.  With lightening-like speed, the larva juts part way out of its home, grabs its victim with its mandibles, drags it back inside its home tunnel, sprays it with digestive enzymes to liquefy it, filters out any solid bits and drinks the rest.

Adult male Six-spotted Tiger Beetles use their mandibles for an additional purpose.  Even after a pair finishes mating, the male may use his mandibles to retain his hold on the female, preventing any other male from attempting to mate with her.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (Cicindela sexguttata). Note that the male, who is the beetle on top, is retaining a hold on the female with his mandibles.

It takes about a year for the beetles to complete their metamorphosis.  Adults may live for a few years, often spending the winter in the same underground tunnel it used in its larval and pupal stages.

The Six-spotted Tiger Beetle is found from southeastern Canada to the Dakotas, south from eastern Texas to Florida. Look for these bright green beetles on a wooded trail near you!

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Resources

Eaton, Eric R.; Kauffman, Ken.  Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America.  2007.

Evans, Arthur V.  Beetles of Eastern North America.  2014.

Evans, Arthur V.  Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America.  2008.

Marshall, Stephen A. Insects Their Natural History and Diversity. 2006.

AnimalSake

University of Connecticut Home & Garden Education Center

Minnesota Seasons.com

Indiana Department of Natural Resources

 

23 thoughts on “A Dazzling Green Beetle: Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

  1. Pingback: The Fab Four: beetles in the garden – The Corner Pollinator Garden

  2. Great pics! These beetles are becoming more and more abundant in the forest as we revive the habitat. I have uncovered them many times during winter hibernation while planting spicebush.

  3. Love your photos and glad you shared some facts about this native beetle. Apparently it is frequently confused with the invasive and detrimental Emerald Ash Borer.

    • Beetles are getting such a bad reputation recently, mostly because of the non-native species like Emerald Ash Borer that are doing so much damage. It’s important to know there are beneficial species, too.

  4. Thank you for the fascinating break from our homeschool work today, Mary Anne. We hope to see these on a trail soon.

  5. Fascinating piece and wonderful photos. Thank you – so much to know about the web of life and how little I personally know. So scary with the news about potential mass extinctions!

    • Thanks, Deborah! One thing I love about nature is that there is always something new to learn. And the best thing that each of us can do to help other species, and ourselves, is to plant native plants!

  6. Thanks for the extensive life history discussion. I’ve often seen these beetles, but I never gave much thought to their life cycle, which clearly requires an abundance of insects. Interesting that they can live several years.

  7. Just starting to read your blog, Mary, after stumbling on it last week. Been seeing quite a few tigers these last couple of weeks in North Carolina but ours a invariably a distinct bluish green. Enjoy your photographic documentation. Might I ask you what camera/lens you typically use? Best regards.

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