Tag Archives: richard cronin aquatic resource center

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….

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!

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.