Puritan Tiger Beetle

views updated

Puritan Tiger Beetle

Cicindela puritana

ListedAugust 7, 1990
FamilyCicindelidae (Tiger beetle)
DescriptionBrownish bronze above and metallic blue below, marginal white bands on wing covers.
HabitatBeaches and adjacent cliffs.
FoodSmall invertebrates.
ReproductionLarva with three stages.
ThreatsHabitat disruption by humans.
RangeConnecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont


The Puritan tiger beetle measures about 0.5 in (1.2 cm) in length. It is brownish bronze above with a metallic blue underside. The wing covers (elytrons) are marked with narrow marginal and transverse white bands.

In the past it has been considered a subspecies of Cicindela cuprascens and of C. macra. It was again recognized as a separate species in 1967.


Both adult and larval tiger beetles prey on small arthropods. The adults grasp their prey with their mandables in a "tiger-like" manner. The larvae, which live in ground burrows, attach themselves near the entrance with abdominal hooks and extend quickly to capture passing prey.

Adult Puritan tiger beetles appear in mid-June, with numbers peaking in early July and declining by late July. After mating, females move from beaches to nearby cliffs where they deposit their eggs. The newly hatched larvae dig burrows in the cliffs, where they pass through three larval stages (instars). Recent studies indicate that they do not metamorphose into adults until the second year.


The Puritan tiger beetle inhabits beach areas with adjacent sand or clay cliffs. Adult beetles feed and mate along the beach and use the sparsely vegetated cliff areas for depositing eggs. Larvae inhabit the cliff sites, moving to the beach as adults.


The Puritan tiger beetle was once known from scattered locations along the Connecticut River in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. It has also been found along the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County, Maryland, and along a short stretch of the Sassafras River in Kent and Cecil counties on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Most New England collections date from the early 1900s, and until recently it was believed that the beetle had been extirpated from that region. However, recently two new populations have been discovered.

The Puritan tiger beetle survives at two locations in New England and two locations around the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. In 1986 a small population of fewer than 100 adult beetles was discovered in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, on a small island in the Connecticut River, and on a nearby sandy beach. In 1989 a larger population was found near Cromwell in Middlesex County, Connecticut. This site is unusual since there are no adjacent cliffs or clay banks, and the larvae burrow in the ground.

Five large populations of more than 600 adults and four small populations of fewer than 100 are scattered along 26 miles of the Chesapeake Bay in Clavert County, Maryland. The Sassafras County populations, which were only discovered in 1989, occur on a 1.5-mi (2.4-km) section of the Sassafras River. These consist of fewer than four medium-sized populations of from 100 to 500 adults.


Decline of the Puritan tiger beetle has been caused by degradation of its beach and cliff habitat, natural and man-made flooding, urbanization, and cliff stabilization projects. A recent study of the beetle's historic collection sites along the Connecticut River determined that 23 percent have been flooded by dams, 38 percent heavily urbanized, and eight percent altered by stabilization projects. It is believed that severe flooding in New England during the 1920s and 1930s contributed to the loss of Puritan tiger beetles in that region.

The only remaining Massachusetts population is threatened by human recreational use. From May through September the beach is heavily used by power boats, motorcycles, and all-terrain vehicles. In Maryland, the principal threat to beetle populations is cliff stabilization projects. Continued breakdown of the cliffs is necessary to provide the exposed areas needed by the larvae. Stabilized cliffs are often quickly overgrown by vegetation.

Conservation and Recovery

The Puritan tiger beetle is somewhat protected by Maryland's critical areas legislation, enacted to help reverse the degradation of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Critical areas, according to this legislation, are those within 1,000 feet of the bay or its tributaries. Development of these areas is curtailed and often prohibited when a state-designated threatened species is present. In addition, four of the Maryland sites are designated "Natural Heritage Areas," giving them further protection from disturbance. Without this strong state protection, the Fish and Wildlife Service would have classified the Puritan tiger beetle as Endangered rather than Threatened.

Collectors pose an additional threat to this beetle species. Tiger beetles are without doubt the most intensely collected of any insect genus. Although collection is not considered a factor in the beetle's decline, the harmful effects are magnified when the species' population is low.


Regional Office of Endangered Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
300 Westgate Center Dr.
Hadley, Massachusetts 01035

Chesapeake Bay Ecological Services Field Office
177 Admiral Cochrane Dr.
Annapolis, Maryland 21401-7307
Telephone: (410) 573-4500
Fax: (410) 263-2608


Boyd, H. P. 1978. "The Tiger Beetles (Coleoptera:Cicindelidae) of New Jersey, with Special Reference to their Ecological Relationships." Transactions of the American Entomological Society 104:191-242.

Knisley, C. B. 1987. "Final Report: Status Survey of Two Candidate Tiger Beetles, Cicindela puritana G. Horn and C. dorsalis Say." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, Massachusetts.

Knisley, C. B., and J. M. Hill. 1990. "Studies of TwoEndangered Tiger Beetles, Cicindela dorsalis dorsalis and Cicindela puritana in Maryland, 1989." Maryland Natural Heritage Program, Annapolis.

Nothnagel, P. 1987. " Cicindela puritana The Puritan Tiger Beetle: Its Current Status in Massachusetts." Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program, Boston.

___. 1989. "Current Status of the Puritan Tiger Beetle (Cicindela puritana) in Connecticut." Eastern Heritage Task Force, The Nature Conservancy, Boston.