Tag Archives: puritan tiger beetle

Many hands making an impact

A large project is underway to reintroduce a small species of tiger beetle to an area they have historically referred to as ‘home’.  When the puritan tiger beetles were listed as threatened in 1990, conservation efforts began to help protect current habitats locations and keep the beetle from becoming further extirpated.

Puritan tiger beetle
Photo Credit: Chris Wirth

The Puritan Tiger Beetle Recovery Project was initiated to help restore the beetle to its current and historic habitats along the Connecticut River.  The Project consists of students and interns from several northeast colleges, the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, and volunteers throughout Western Massachusetts.  The team utilizes the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center in Sunderland, MA as the official site to conduct the necessary lab work for the project where they work together everyday to ensure the project runs smoothly.

Let’s Meet Some of these dedicated people…


Rodger Gwiazdowski, Principle Investigator and Team Leader

Caucasian young male with bug netRodger imagined a project like this when he got curious about tiger beetles as an undergraduate. When describing the projects focus, he says “To learn how we establish stable puritan tiger beetle populations throughout the Connecticut River, our project has two broad questions: 1) What ecological conditions make ‘good habitats’ good?, and 2) How can captive reared larvae be used to establish new populations?” In the wild, it takes the puritan tiger beetle about two years to reach their adult stage. The lab-reared larvae grow in a fraction of this time. This process ensures they’re reintroduced without the substantial loss that would naturally occur in the wild.

Chris Davis, Research and Field Technician

Since 1997, Chris has been conducting research on puritan tiger beetles by conducting larval surveys, habitat management, and translocation of larvae to augment the population in Massachusetts. Currently, Chris is conducting adult counts by visual survey and assessing a new location for reintroduction. “It’s the old adage, ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’,” Chris says. “Puritan tiger beetle presence here in the Pioneer Valley gives us an opportunity to contribute, educate, and learn about many issues related to endangered species, their management, and how we can work with others to put shared values into action.”

Robin Saudade, Population Surveyor

Robin is currently studying the puritan tiger beetle populations in Cromwell, CT and Northampton, MA in order to create a life table for them. Robin surveys the total number and the larval stages of each burrow in order to learn the survival rate of each instar (stages). By incorporating egg hatching percentages from Rodger’s lab data and adult populations from Chris Davis’ field surveys, Robin will be able to calculate an overall survival rate from egg to adult of puritan tiger beetle.

Kate Froburg, Assistant Laboratory Manager and American Conservation Experience Intern

Kate is one of two assistant laboratory managers. Her main focus is maintaining the beetles in the lab, and assisting with student projects. Kate is also working on a project of her own aside from the Puritan Tiger Beetle Recover Project. Kate’s project aims to understand how sediment (sand/silt/clay) type influences oviposition (egg laying) in the laboratory environment, and whether female puritan tiger beetles prefer a specific sediment type.

Neil Kapitulik, Community Volunteer and Population and Site Surveyor for the puritan tiger beetles

Neil assists with the collection of adult puritan tiger beetle for lab rearing, and spends most of his time in the field observing the beetles in their natural habitat. Neil is currently in the process of identifying a potential habitat in Vermont.

“Surveys and monitoring adults for many years now has given us a good understanding of population trends and will enable us to connect external environmental factors such as high water and cold weather,” Neil explains. “Through surveys we will know if we reach the recovery goals for puritan tiger beetles.”

Caleb Robitaille, Graduate Student from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Caleb is striving to succeed in the field as a wildlife biologist. He is currently working on a research paper where he explores what puritan tiger beetles are eating. “It is often assumed that they are generalists”, Caleb explains, “but I am looking to see if there is any particular prey that makes up a larger portion of their diet”. Caleb also explains that this information will be useful in reintroducing the Puritan Tiger Beetle to their habitat since the presence of potential prey at a new site could be an indicator of survival success.

Mary Apessos, Student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Establishes Dynamic Feeders for Insect Colonies

While adults and larvae are in the lab, Mary maintains colonies of various feeder insects to feed the captive puritan tiger beetle. “The goal is to keep their diet relatively diverse (2-3 different species of feeder insects), and to keep them well fed”, Mary explains. Growing larvae rely on large amounts of food in order to effectively develop into their next instar (stages), and they’re surprisingly aggressive eaters.

Ellie Dufraine, Student and American Conservation Experience Intern

Her project aims to map the density of first, second and third instar puritan tiger beetle larvae of a successful population on the Connecticut River. By breaking the habitat up into measured square meter sections, the larval burrows can be identified by instar “age” based on size and as a particular species based on the angle of the burrow in the earth. This information can be used to visually determine where larvae inhabit the beach from vegetation to water-line, and the characteristics of preferred habitat for puritan tiger beetle larvae can then be concluded for future reintroduction efforts.

Laura Pickering, Intern and Manages the Clay Processing and the Sprayer System

The sprayer system was built to aid in finding the puritan tiger beetle eggs. Using a hose and an air tattoo gun, Laura uses a faucet in the lab to give the sprayer a continuous water stream. Laura also constructed the bin and platform for the strainer to strain out the sediment and find the eggs. This system saves hours every day, when looking for eggs, and is a much safer search than digging.

The clay processing is essential for the puritan tiger beetle to lay their eggs. In the lab, sand is put into deep petri dishes for the puritan tiger beetle to lay their eggs in. To help with this, clay which has been specially quarried from the Connecticut River by the puritan tiger beetle team, is mixed, dried, kneaded, sanitized, and kneaded again to be places around the petri dishes so that the puritan tiger beetle can climb up into the sand-filled petri dishes to lay their eggs. Without these special ramps, puritan tiger beetle are less likely to lay their eggs.

Sara Wisner, Assistant Laboratory Manager and American Conservation Experience Intern

Sara is our other assistant laboratory manager for the puritan tiger beetle Lab. Sara would like to bring live tiger beetles to a wider audience. For this, she is designing, and creating a unique portable terrarium that will act as a type of “ant farm” display. In this way the larvae will develop their vertical tunnels against a glass window, which can then be used to educate the public to the life cycle of the puritan tiger beetle. However, due to the puritan tiger beetle’s endangered status, Sara will be using the bronze tiger beetle (Cicindela repanda) because they are a common species, with a similar life cycle.

Hal Weeks, Volunteer Coordinator

Caucasian male in red hat looking leftHal joined the Puritan Tiger Beetle Recovery Project this year to coordinate the community of volunteers helping with the project. In addition, Hal offers scientific advice, and a career’s worth of research, and applied conservation experience to benefit the project results.

Kevin Hannon, Information Technology & wireless hardware

For his day job, Kevin is Director of Information Systems for the town of Belchertown, MA, where he helps keep the town digitally connected. In his spare time, Kevin volunteers to digitally connect the recovery team with the puritan tiger beetle Lab. In the lab, the puritan tiger beetle adults and larvae live in a carefully controlled environmental room. For this room, Kevin has built custom computers and written code for them to create an internet-capable computing system which controls, monitors, and records data on all aspects of the beetle’s environment. With Kevin’s system, the lab team is instantly alerted by text and email if the building looses power, internet, or the environmental conditions change.


Above are just a few of the people who are dedicating their time to conserve the puritan tiger beetle. Working in the field of conservation takes collaboration from everyone including many more folks working in Federal, State, NGO, Academic, and other vital volunteer roles for the team. Everyone involved in any conservation project has a different project or task that will not only aid the group as a whole, but also creates greater benefits for the group, by pooling their resources. The overall outcome is rewarding!

To volunteer with the puritan tiger beetle Team, visit:  http://ptblabvolunteers.blogspot.com/

The Puritan Tiger Beetle Recovery Project provides collaborative opportunities for those interested in working in the field of conservation. In particular, for students looking for a career in conservation, it provides a venue to conduct scientific experiments and studies of their own, while also interacting with professional biologists in the field. All the combined work and effort will not only aid in the reintroduction of the puritan tiger beetle, it’s something students can use toward a future career path.

Stay tuned for the next blog post that will talk about the reintroduction and the projects progress….

Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beetles!

While Ed Sullivan was introducing a group of ‘beetles’ to the United States back in 1964, there is another group of beetles that were already thriving here.  And even though their ‘band’ had begun to break up in the late 1980’s, it seems that they are slowly making their way back into the spotlight with the help of dedicated fans.  The puritan tiger beetle (Cicindela Puritana) has been listed as a ‘threatened’ species since 1990, and since 1993 great efforts came underway to help in the recovery process for this tiny species.  Once thriving throughout its historic habitat in the Connecticut River watershed from Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and areas in Maryland throughout the Chesapeake Bay, this species has been reduced to two primary locations: the Chesapeake Bay and single, isolated populations in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The puritan tiger beetle has been named for their behavior in how they catch their prey, by running it down and capturing it with long, powerful mandibles (jaws). Photo: Sue Wojtowicz/USFWS

Why Such Big Efforts for Such a Small Creature?

Since the enactment of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, many wildlife species have been placed on a list that categorizes them as either threatened or endangered.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is dedicated to protecting all species on that list, which includes the puritan tiger beetle; and the Service has established recovery efforts that will bring some hope for this small species.  To do this, a team of scientists, students, and volunteers alike have come together to help maintain remaining populations from disappearing forever. This summer, students and volunteers will be surveying the two isolated populations along the Connecticut River in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and one new site in Vermont in hopes of releasing more Puritan Tiger Beetles back to the wild.

The puritan tiger beetle is no different than any other species that are important to their habitat.  They, too, are part of the same ecosystem that we as humans should strive more to coexist with.  But to coexist with a species less than 1 inch in length can be challenging if people do not know they even exist.  That is where the dedicated conservation team comes in – as they establish baseline ecological research, they’re also spreading the word about the beetle, which is increasing curiosity among the public.  By showing people some of the hands on work being done in the field, and gaining the knowledge of where the beetles live, what they eat, and how they populate new habitat the conservation team will play a big part in understanding how beetles and humans can coexist together. Watching students and volunteers talk about the puritan tiger beetle recovery project to the public brings out the wildlife enthusiast in anyone, and to observe them in action together with the beetles in their habitat is to observe a conservation milestone in the making.

Please stay tuned to our next puritan tiger beetle blog post – where we focus on the members of the conservation team.

Beach Day for Beetles!

The largest-ever reintroduction of an endangered tiger beetle happened quietly in the morning of October 19th, 2017, on a foggy beach in the Connecticut river. These beetles are the rare Puritan Tiger Beetle, Cicindela puritana , or “PTB” as tiger beetle experts call it. This species is listed as federally threatened and state endangered due to a century of human use that has changed the Connecticut River’s flow. This change has reduced desired habitat, and left only one viable population of PTBs in New England. This reintroduction of more than 700 laboratory-reared PTB larvae is only part of a multi-year, team-project to establish sustainable populations of PTB in the Connecticut River.

Endangered Puritan Tiger Beetle male.

This project, which is supported by the Cooperative Recovery Initiative program and based at the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center in partnership with Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, unites a seasoned team of over 30 Federal & State wildlife officials, professional Biologists, Academic partners, students, and generous volunteers. Together, this group is pioneering methods to acquire land, captive-rear larvae, manage habitat, and use field-techniques to ensure the survival of PTB throughout one of the largest rivers in the Northeast.

Volunteers from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Student Conservation Association, and the University of Massachusetts prepare a plot before larva reintroduction.

To restore a healthy river ecosystem that includes these tiny apex predators, lab-reared PTB reintroductions are key to establishing new populations. To do this, the PTB team uses aerial “butterfly” nets to carefully collect adult beetles from the single source-population. The adult beetles mate and lay eggs in the lab, which hatch into larvae that grow progressively larger through 3 growth phases, called instars. In the wild, it takes about 2 years for PTB larvae to reach their third instar, but in the lab, this time can be reduced to just a few months.

Rodger Gwiazdowski moistens the top layer of soil with river water at 1 of 7 reintroduction plots.

The reintroduction sites were carefully selected by the PTB team. Finding good habitat requires expertise to determine sediment size, beach slope, and the abundance and diversity of prey that PTBs prefer. To be reintroduced, PTB larvae are transported to the site, each in their own small sand-filled vial, and released into plotted-areas on the beach where they immediately dig vertical tunnels in the sand to develop through their instar stages. 

Volunteers release PTB larva into the sand.

Over the next 2 years, the PTB team will revisit the reintroduction sites to count the number of PTB burrows and adult beetles, which will indicate the success and survival rate of the lab-reared PTBs.

Stay tuned for 2018 updates on the PTBs!