I’ve been interested in collecting insects since I was 10 years old, and my current collection dates back to spring semester 1978 when, after finally declaring a major, I kicked off my life as an entomologist with Entomology 101. I did my graduate work on the now-defunct Homoptera (I just can’t call them hemipterans), using laboratory rearing to figure out life history details of several species of leafhoppers. Although my allegiance would soon switch to beetles (where it has remained ever since), my interest in rearing insects would persist. It wasn’t long before I began rearing wood boring beetles as a way of studying their distributions and host plant associations. I’ve reared beetles from literally hundreds of batches of wood – buprestids, cerambycids, bostrichids, clerids, ostomids, you name it – if it breeds in wood, I’ve reared it. Not to mention the parasitic hymenopterans and even predaceous asilids associated with them. Rearing has been part of my professional life as well. In the early part of my career in industry, I supervised an insectary that maintained laboratory colonies of nearly two dozen arthropod species to support research. We reared moths, beetles, flies, roaches, aphids – even mites and nematodes. However, despite having reared hundreds of species of insects, I had never reared a tiger beetle – until now!
This little gal – a gorgeous individual representing Cicindela limbalis (common claybank tiger beetle) – was waiting for me when I returned from my recent trip to western Nebraska and South Dakota. I had collected her as a 3rd instar larva from her burrow atop a steep clay bank in western Missouri, where my colleague and I were conducting our survey for Cicindela pruinina (now Dromochorus pruininus). I had entertained the hope that it might prove to be that species, but the abundance of larval burrows within this patch of habitat – where C. pruinina had not been seen – and the fact that they contained mostly 3rd instars suggested it would prove to be one of the spring-fall clay associated species. After fishing her from her burrow, I filled an empty Starbuck’s Frappucinno bottle (there is, apparently, only one place in the Ozarks where availability of good coffee obviates the need to resort to a cold, sugary, “coffee-flavored” drink in the morning) with native clay and dropped her in, where she immediately proceeded to dig a new burrow. She was thoughtful enough to dig her burrow right down along the glass so that I could keep an eye on her over the next several weeks, occasionally dropping in a fat fall armyworm larva and watching it meet its gruesome yet mercifully quick death. A few weeks before my trip, she sealed up her burrow and disappeared from view. Curious (and impatient), I emptied the soil from the bottle and found her down at the bottom, quiescent but apparently healthy. I put the soil back into the bottle and dropped her in, and she immediately dug a new burrow, sealed it up, and disappeared from view once again. My curiosity satisfied, I had an easier time leaving her alone after that, and when I returned from my trip, there she was.
Cicindela limbalis occurs throughout Missouri on eroded or sparsely vegetated clay soils, although it is less common in the southern Ozark Highlands – being largely replaced by Cicindela splendida (splendid tiger beetle). I’ve most often encountered C. limbalis on roadside embankments, along 2-tracks through open forest and woodland, and in glade habitats. This individual shows the greatly reduced elytral maculations that are typical of populations found throughout most of Missouri – only in the extreme northern tier of counties is the full pattern of maculation expressed (as exemplified by this individual from central Nebraska). At one time, this reduced maculation was the basis for recognition as a separate subspecies (C. limbalis transversa); however, no distinct geographical forms are currently recognized for this species (unusual in cicindelid taxonomy). Regardless of her taxonomic identity, I’m enjoying watching my new pet – she now occupies a larger, roomier terrarium filled with native clay, into which she has dug a burrow and spends most of her time sitting at its entrance. As she did when she was a 3rd instar, she enjoys a fat fall armyworm larva for lunch every few days. She will eventually take up permanent residence in a neat row inside a wooden, glass-topped box, but for now I’m going to do everything I can to delay that fate. Of all the many thousands of insects that I’ve reared over the years, she is my favorite.