MAKE WAY FOR BEETLES!

The tiny Puritan Tiger Beetle is a ferocious predator, but is a having hard time surviving in an increasingly competitive world. Today we hear from evolutionary biologist Rodger Gwiazdowski of Advanced BioConsulting, LLC, who is leading a research team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Student Conservation Association in hopes of creating a successful breeding population in their historic native New England habitat.

Adult Puritan tiger beetles are less than half an inch long, but are fast and ferocious predators. Photo Credit: USFWS/Susan Wojtowicz

Adult Puritan tiger beetles are less than half an inch long, but are fast and ferocious predators. Photo Credit: USFWS/Susan Wojtowicz

They slice into prey with sharp jaws – and eat everything they catch. Tiger beetles, (named for their ferocious hunting behavior) are tough, tiny insect-predators, who thrive in harsh places like deserts and beaches. Despite their tenacity, many species of tiger beetles are on endangered species lists. Unfortunately their individual “toughness” is not enough to ensure survival. What they need is to be part of something bigger – a group of many interacting populations; something ecologists call a metapopulation.

Metapopulations reduce extinction, because if any one population in the group fails (a normal event) then individuals from nearby populations can move back, or grow new populations in new habitat. But a single population that’s too small, or too far away from new habitat – risks extinction.

Larval tiger beetles are also predatory, but live in deep self-dug holes. Larvae can be translocated to establish new populations, and here they are being carefully dug out by Service employee Susan Wojtowicz. Photo credit: USFWS

Larval tiger beetles are also predatory, but live in deep self-dug holes. Larvae can be translocated to establish new populations, and here they are being carefully dug out by Service employee Susan Wojtowicz. Photo credit: USFWS

On a narrow riverside beach along the Connecticut River, the sleek Puritan tiger beetle, Cicindela puritana (or ‘PTB’ as tiger beetle experts call it) lives on, as the only viable population in New England.  A century of human use has changed the Connecticut River’s flow, reducing critical habitat for the PTB, and eliminating a healthy metapopulation of beetles.

But now, thanks to some serious advocates, restoring a PTB metapopulation is possible. For the first time in the United States, a team from the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge in western Massachusetts, is combining over a decade of PTB adult surveys, habitat management & acquisition, larval translocations, and captive rearing, to establish new populations of beetles at sites where they once historically flourished.

In the Puritan tiger beetle rearing lab, at the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center, staff prepare for daily care of the adults, and larvae. Photo credit: USFWS.

In the Puritan tiger beetle rearing lab at the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center, staff prepare for daily care of the adults and larvae. Photo credit: USFWS.

Throughout 2015-2016, a team of biologists, interns and volunteers have successfully translocated a small number of larvae to historic habitats, and worked with the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center in Sunderland, Massachusetts to create a dedicated PTB lab that can rear beetles by the thousands.

Much of the project is made possible through the Cooperative Recovery Initiative program, which aims to recover federally listed species on National Wildlife Refuges and surrounding lands.

Larvae will dig their new burrows under the protection of transport containers. Student Conservation Association intern Cathleen Johnson releases the larvae into their new habitat. Photo credit: USFWS

Larvae will dig new burrows under the protection of transport containers. Student Conservation Association intern Cathleen Johnson releases the larvae into their new habitat. Photo credit: USFWS

Later this fall, the team plans to reintroduce hundreds of PTB larvae, now growing in the lab, to a historical site in Massachusetts. In addition,  students at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Elkinton Lab will help cold-incubate PTB larvae over the winter, which will also be reintroduced. Looking ahead a few years, the team has set their sights on several historic PTB locations, with the aim of establishing several new populations, to help re-make a PTB metapopulation in the Connecticut River.

One Comment on “MAKE WAY FOR BEETLES!

  1. Pingback: Saving the Puritan tiger beetle in Connecticut | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

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