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.