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.
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.
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.
Their large eyes, long legs and sickle-shaped mandibles are characteristic of the 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.
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.
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!
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.
University of Connecticut Home & Garden Education Center
Indiana Department of Natural Resources
I live in Wilder Ky, the North part of the state,in the County of Campbell. I started seeing the six spotted Tiger Beatle about a year or so ago for the first time in my life. They are a beneficial bug to me because I love sitting outside on my patio and enjoying nature most of the year. There are always other bugs that annoy me,like flies,bees,nats,and so on. This year I see more and more of the Six Spotted Tiger Beatles and less and less Bugs! Great to have them for my guests anytime!
I’m glad you are enjoying the beetle! Those other insects are important, too. Bees are important pollinators, and even pollinate the food we eat. Many flies are good pollinators, some help keep other insects in check, and other species help break down detritus and return it to the soil. Even gnats are food for birds. I’ve learned to love all of nature. I hope you do, too.
Reblogged this on In Frog Pond Holler and commented:
I saw one of these beetles today and had some questions about what I saw. This post was helpful.
I’ve been seeing a lot of these beetles for the past couple of weeks. I’m glad you found the post helpful.
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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.
That’s great that you are seeing more of them!
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.
I love the Tiger Beetles!!!
They are so cute!
Thank you for the fascinating break from our homeschool work today, Mary Anne. We hope to see these on a trail soon.
I’m sure you include time outside in your home school day!
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!
Fascinating. As always your photos are brilliant and illustrate your text perfectly.
Thank you, Monica!
Amazing green! I’ve seen bugs like this before, but too soon they were gone again. Great pics!
They are gorgeous when you see them!
Wow, what a neat post! 🙂 I don’t know that much about beetles, it’s always neat to learn new things
Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. There is always something new to learn about nature!
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.
Glad you enjoyed the post!
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.
Hi John, I’m glad you enjoy my photos! For this type of photography I use a Canon Rebel with a Sigma 180 mm macro lens.