Are Tiger Beetles Dangerous? Uncovering the Truth Behind Their Ferocity

folder_openColeoptera, Insecta
comment15 Comments

Tiger beetles are fascinating insects known for their exceptional speed and predatory nature.

As members of the Cicindelinae family, these beetles are found in various habitats across the world, exhibiting a wide range of colors and patterns.

While their appearance and hunting skills are undeniably captivating, it is natural to wonder if these insects pose any danger to humans.

Are Tiger Beetles Dangerous
Six Spotted Tiger Beetle

In terms of their behavior, tiger beetles are primarily focused on hunting smaller insects and arthropods, showing little interest in interacting with humans.

Both adult and larval tiger beetles are predatory, relying on their fast running speed and powerful jaws to capture and subdue their prey.

However, it’s worth noting that some species, like the Carolina Tiger Beetle, are nocturnal and gregarious, hunting in “packs” during the night.

Are Tiger Beetles Dangerous?

Despite their fearsome reputation in the insect world, tiger beetles do not generally pose a threat to human beings.

That being said, some species of tiger beetles may bite if handled, though their bites are typically harmless and cause only minor discomfort.

It is best to admire these remarkable insects from a safe distance and avoid handling them to minimize any chance of disturbance or injury.

Overall, tiger beetles are intriguing predators that play a valuable role in insect ecosystems but are not considered dangerous to humans.

What Are Tiger Beetles

Tiger beetles are a group of fascinating insects belonging to the subfamily Cicindelinae, part of the larger family of ground beetles (Carabidae) in the order Coleoptera.

They are known for their metallic and colorful appearance, and their predatory behavior. There are around 2,760 tiger beetle species worldwide.

  • Appearance: Tiger beetles are often metallic green, blue, or bronze, with large bulging eyes, long legs, and powerful jaws.
  • Hunting: They are famous for their speed and agility, as they run and stop in search of the tiny insects and spiders they eat.

Some tiger beetles are active during the day, while others are nocturnal, like the Carolina Tiger beetle, which sometimes hunts in “packs”.

Hairy-Necked Tiger Beetle

Adult tiger beetles are efficient predators that hunt using their sharp, toothed jaws to capture small insects and spiders.

Tiger beetle larvae are also predators, with unique hooks on their abdomen to anchor themselves to the walls of their burrow while subduing prey.

They do have their own natural enemies, like hister beetles, birds, and ants, and may be parasitized by bee flies and several wasp species.

While tiger beetles may appear fierce and dangerous, they pose no threat to humans.

They are interesting creatures to observe, especially for those fascinated by insects and their behavior.

Recognizing Tiger Beetles

Tiger beetles are known for their impressive physical features, which aid them in hunting and capturing prey. Some of these features include:

  • Large, bulging eyes that provide excellent vision
  • Long, thin antennae for detecting prey
  • Sickle-shaped mandibles that can quickly snatch up insects

These beetles are also equipped with long legs, which allow them to run at high speeds in pursuit of their prey.

Color and Patterns

Tiger beetles often display stunning metallic hues, such as metallic green, blue, or bronze.

They also have diverse patterns on their wing covers (elytra), with markings ranging from spots to intricate shapes.

For example, the six-spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) exhibits six small white spots on its elytra, though the number of spots may vary.

Ocellated Tiger Beetle

Common Species

The Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle is one of the most well-known species of tiger beetles.

Here is a brief comparison of this species with another popular one, the Carolina Tiger Beetle:

FeatureSix-Spotted Tiger BeetleCarolina Tiger Beetle
ColorMetallic GreenGreenish Bronze
Markings on Wing Covers2, 4, 6, 8 white spotsIrregular dark stripes
ActivityDaytimeNocturnal
HabitatGardens, wooded areasSandy soil, beaches

By observing their color, patterns, and physical features, you can easily identify tiger beetles and differentiate between species.

Although tiger beetles may bite if handled, they are not considered dangerous to humans and are, in fact, beneficial predators that help control pest populations.

Habitat and Distribution

Geographical Range

Tiger beetles are found in various regions across the world, including North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia.

For instance, the Six-spotted tiger beetle is commonly found in eastern North America from Canada to the southern United States.

Habitat Types

  • Ground: Most of the 2,760 tiger beetle species live on the ground where they run and stop in search of prey.
  • Desert: Some species inhabit desert environments where they use their speed to catch prey.
  • Wooded areas: Others prefer wooded areas, like the Six-spotted tiger beetle, which resides in moist, shaded forests.

Tiger beetles can tolerate diverse environments due to their adaptation to various conditions such as heat and limited food sources.

When it gets too hot, they seek shade to cool down. In general, tiger beetles are known to be found in habitats with sandy or gravelly soil, often near water.

Mating Six Spotted Tiger Beetles

HabitatExamples of Tiger Beetle SpeciesCommon Features
GroundMost speciesRun and stop in search of prey, adapt to heat and shade
DesertSome desert speciesUtilize speed to catch prey in harsh conditions
Wooded areasSix-spotted tiger beetleMoist, shaded forests, often near water

While these beetles are not dangerous to humans, they play a vital role in their ecosystems by feeding on small insects, thus controlling their population.

Additionally, they serve as an essential food source for larger predators such as birds and lizards.

Life Cycle

Eggs and Larvae

Tiger beetle life cycle begins with eggs laid by the female.

When larvae hatch, they have massive mandibles and burrow into the ground. Within their burrows, they ambush prey:

  • Long legs for quick movements
  • Anchoring hooks on abdomen
  • Large mandibles for grasping prey

Larval development spans three instars, where they grow and molt between stages. They ultimately pupate in their burrows1.

Pupal Stage

During the pupal stage, the transition from larvae to adults occurs. Pupating in safety, they metamorphose into adult form2.

Adult Stage

In the adult stage, features of tiger beetles include:

  • Long legs for running
  • Large mandibles for catching prey
  • Males and females search for mates

Tiger beetles are known for their speed and predation, hunting insects and spiders3. A comparison of adult and larval features:

Unidentified Tiger Beetle

FeatureLarvaAdult
LegsShort, more used for anchoringLong, for running
MandiblesLarge, for capturing preyLarge, for capturing prey
BehaviorAmbush within burrowsActively chase prey on the ground

Tiger beetles provide a fascinating example of adaptation and predatory efficiency in both their larval and adult stages.

Behavior and Predation

Tiger beetles are known for their predatory habits and impressive hunting skills. They are diurnal, meaning they’re active during daytime.

Their primary hunting strategy involves capturing prey like small arthropods and caterpillars using their strong, painful bite.

For example, they usually feed on spiders, ants, grasshoppers, and flies.

Here is a comparison table of some common tiger beetle prey:

PreyTypeSize
SpiderArthropodSmall
AntInsectTiny
GrasshopperInsectMedium
FlyInsectTiny

Feeding Patterns

The tiger beetle’s diet mainly consists of arthropods. It is extremely adaptable, allowing it to thrive in diverse ecosystems.

Caterpillars, spiders, and grasshoppers make up most of their diet.

Feeding on these creatures helps maintain a healthy ecosystem by controlling the population of these prey species, thus protecting plants from damage.

The following bullet points highlight features of their feeding patterns:

  • Predominantly arthropod-based diet
  • Adaptable to diverse ecosystems
  • Contribute to maintaining ecosystem balance

Mating and Reproduction

Tiger beetles engage in a unique mating process, often involving purple and blue color displays.

Such vibrant colors play an essential role in attracting potential mates.

After successful mating, females lay their eggs in tiny burrows, protecting them from predators like spiders and ants.

Six Spotted Tiger Beetle

Consequently, their offspring have a higher chance of survival.

Here are some characteristics of tiger beetle mating and reproduction:

  • Display of vibrant colors during mating
  • Females lay eggs in burrows
  • Offspring protected from predators

Although tiger beetles exhibit predatory behavior, they do not pose a significant danger to humans.

Their painful bite might be uncomfortable, but they generally tend to avoid human contact, focusing instead on hunting smaller arthropods and preserving the ecosystem balance.

Conservation and Management

Tiger beetles play an important role in their ecosystems as both adults and larvae are predatory.

They help control populations of tiny insects and spiders 1. However, some species of tiger beetles face challenges making conservation efforts essential.

One such species is the Puritan tiger beetle, which prefers eroding cliffs as their habitat 3. Conservation and management practices are essential to protect these endangered beetles and their ecosystems.

Vegetation and Adaptation

Tiger beetles are adapted to a variety of habitats, making vegetation management necessary for their survival.

Maintaining vegetation in their habitats helps these beetles thrive and supports overall ecosystem health.

Scientific Research

Scientists play a critical role in understanding the ecology and behavior of tiger beetles.

Their research helps identify useful conservation strategies and applicable management measures for the beetle populations.

Benefits of Conservation

  • Preserves the natural ecosystem
  • Helps maintain a balance between predators and prey
  • Protects endangered species

Conservation Measures

  • Restore native habitats
  • Monitor beetle populations
  • Implement management practices to maintain healthy ecosystems

By incorporating these measures, we can better protect and preserve tiger beetles and their valuable role in the ecosystem.’

Carolina Metallic Tiger Beetle

Conclusion

Tiger beetles are not considered dangerous to humans. While they are predatory insects known for their swift movements and voracious appetite for smaller insects, their interactions with humans are generally harmless.

Tiger beetles are more of a curiosity in nature due to their vibrant colors and quick behavior. Some species are valued in ecosystems for helping control pest populations.

If handled, they might give a small bite, but it’s not a cause for concern. As with any wildlife, it’s best to observe them without disturbing their natural behavior.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about tiger beetles. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Beetles from Singapore: Tiger Beetle and Darkling Beetle

Beetles
Location: Singapore
May 29, 2011 12:19 am
Hi,
Please help to idenditfy these 2 beetles.
Is the beetle in pic 1 a Cicindelidae
( Tiger Beetle )?
The beetle shown in pic 2 & 3 has two humps on its neck. What is it?
Thanks & regards
Signature: Lance

Tiger Beetle:  Neocollyris celebensis

Hi Lance,
We agree that the green beetle does seem to resemble the Tiger Beetles in the subfamily Cicindelidae.  Furthermore, we believe the two beetles you have submitted have many similarities and they may be closely related.  Hopefully our readership may be able to contribute a more specific identification.

Possibly a Darkling Beetle

Update:  April 8, 2013
We have been advised through comments that neither beetle is likely a Tiger Beetle.  The second photo has been tentatively identified as a Darkling Beetle in the genus
 Strongylium, thanks to a comment from David who has an image posted on FlickR.

Update:  December 1, 2013
A comment from David Moh just arrived and we agree that the upper image appears to be the Tiger Beetle
Neocollyris celebensis, which is pictured on Southeast Asian Beetles.

Letter 2 – Carolina Tiger Beetle

Rainbow Bug
July 20, 2009
this is a bug we found wandering on the ground while playing with my son. Its colors were so brilliant in the sunlight that i captured it to get a better look. I think it is some kind of beetle because of its jaw…but its coloring is unlike anything ive ever seen. We live in east texas. Is this a common insect in this area? Thanks!
Intrigued in texas
East Texas

Carolina Tiger Beetle
Carolina Tiger Beetle

Dear Intrigued,
We believe your gorgeous beetle is a Carolina Tiger Beetle, Tetracha carolina, based on photos posted to BugGuide.  It is also called a Pan-American Big-headed Tiger Beetle.  BugGuide also indicates: 

“Range  Southern United States. In southeast: Virginia to Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana. Perhaps absent from Appalachians, though Brimley (1) reports it from Asheville, North Carolina.

Also found in southwest, west to California.  Habitat  Sandbanks of rivers, pastures, open, disturbed areas. Often found near water. Nocturnal, found under boards, rocks, trash, etc. during day.”

Letter 3 – Cicindela purpurea, NOT Barrens Tiger Beetle

Hard shell, shiny, six legs=Help, WTB!?!
The thing that threw me off about this one is the way it jumped across the yard like a small grasshopper then coasted/flew about a foot and a half before landing. I went after it to catch the this ‘grasshopper’ for my cats who are indoors and enjoy the occasional bug to play with.

When I put my foot on it and bent to pick it up, I saw the iridescent green and turquoise beetle. I don’t know where to look as I just moved to Gillette, WY and am unfamiliar with the things in our unmowed and unkempt yard. Oh, and it tried to bite.

The closest I can come is the Tiger Beatle. But what is with the gold lines and spots? Very pretty bug, though. I just found the exact replica of my beetle! I think. Is the information I found true?

It’s a Cicindela patruela patruela,Patterned Green Tiger Beetle? It gave me this picture and also says only once was recorded in the 19th century in Burlington.
Rachel

Hi Rachel,
It is impossible to give an accurate identification of your beetle based on the photo, but we do agree it is a Tiger Beetle. We love your drawing so much we are inclined to agree this is Cicindela patruela, the Barrens Tiger Beetle according to BugGuide.

Update (08/22/2006)
Hello Lisa Anne and Daniel, I recently came across your website and I was pleased to see such a vibrant (and well-done) site. I’m an entomologist and evolutionary biologist (specializing on the systematics, taxonomy and evolution of tiger beetles and their close relatives) and I have to say that I’m impressed with your accuracy rate!

It’s much, much better than other comparable sites I’ve come across over the years. The two of you must really love insects. I’ll bookmark your site and check it out when I’m having trouble sleeping again!


Even from the blurry photograph, it can be unequivocally identified as Cicindela purpurea (don’t let the name fool you, out west they are mostly green!). This is a very common species in WY and most of the continent (although most abundant in the western shortgrass prairie). It’s impressive that you caught it without a net!
Daniel P. Duran
Dept. of Biological Sciences
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN

Letter 4 – Compliments from a Tiger Beetle expert!!!

hello again
Hi, did you receive my email from Aug 8? I sent you a lot of information concerning your website on that date, and I would just like to know if you ever received it. I’ve attached the email again below.


Hello Lisa Anne and Daniel,
I recently came across your website and I was pleased to see such a vibrant (and well-done) site. I’m an entomologist and evolutionary biologist (specializing on the systematics, taxonomy and evolution of tiger beetles and their close relatives) and

I have to say that I’m impressed with your accuracy rate! It’s much, much better than other comparable sites I’ve come across over the years. The two of you must really love insects. In any case, I noticed that you are open to information from specialists, so I thought I’d give you a few ID’s of species that I came across on your pages.

I was having trouble sleeping, so I went through all of the tiger beetles, scaratines, etc and checked them out. Hope that helps. I thought there would probably be a lot of sexguttata photos, and it looks like there were.

The name confuses so many people, especially in the midwest where they are usually immaculate (I’ve got some really weird variants as well, since I’m completing a revision of the entire clade that that species falls within). I’ll bookmark your site and check it out when I’m having trouble sleeping again!


Daniel P. Duran
Dept. of Biological Sciences
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN

Letter 5 – Cow Path Tiger Beetle

Cow Path Tiger Beetle
Location: Central MN
April 6, 2012 8:03 am
Greetings, bugnuts!
I found this colorful little monster on the second of April. But what a terrible name for him: Cow Path Tiger Beetle (cicindela purpurea). That’s what my book calls him, anyway.
Cheers. I look at your site everyday. It’s a relief to have some insects out and about again here in the north. But scary early!
Signature: Don J. Dinndorf

Cow Path Tiger Beetle

Dear Don,
Thanks so much for the compliment.  Unlike you, we do not find the common name Cow Path Tiger Beetle to be “terrible”, though we do find it unusual. 

Common names do create the possibility of confusion since many species have multiple common names, each highly localized, and species that cross international boundaries with language changes face even more confusion.  That is the reason the scientific community settled upon the binomial naming system that avoids common names. 

Should you find it troublesome to refer to this lovely Tiger Beetle by the name Cow Path Tiger Beetle, you can always use the name favored on BugGuide, which is Purple Tiger Beetle, though BugGuide does recognize the other common name as well.  

BugGuide also notes:  “Uncommon through much of its range; a beautiful species” and that it prefers “Upland habitats with shale soils. Found in forest clearings, often along dirt paths through grassy areas.” 

We suspect the common name Cow Path Tiger Beetle refers to sightings occurring along paths traveled by cattle to reach high altitude pastures with better grazing.

Cow Path Tiger Beetle

Letter 6 – Exemplary Photo of St. Anthony Dune Tiger Beetle

Subject: St. Anthony Dune Tiger Beetle (Cicindela arenicola)
Location: St. Anthony Dunes, Fremont County, Idaho
May 22, 2013 7:59 pm
I thought that you guys might enjoy a picture of this guy.
Signature: Dune Crawler

St Anthony Dune Tiger Beetle
St. Anthony Dune Tiger Beetle

Dear Dune Crawler,
This piebald beetle is a lovely species and your photograph is exemplary.  Thank you for providing us with our first photo of a St. Anthony Dune Tiger Beetle.
P.S.  We rotated your image a quarter of a turn counterclockwise so it would fit better on our site.

Letter 7 – Green Margined Tiger Beetle

whats that bug
Bugman-
I looked through all 15 of you beetle pages and I believe this is some kind of tiger beetle, but nothing I saw quite matched it. Could you please telll me if it is a tiger beetle and what kind it is? Thank you.
Lauren
Gardner, KS

Hi Lauren,
This is a Tiger Beetle, and we believe it is a Green Margined Tiger Beetle, Cicindela limbalis. It is pictured and described on BugGuide.

Letter 8 – Hairy Necked Tige Beetle, Pacific Coast Tiger Beetle, or other species???

2 pollinators 1 fuzzy-legged jumper
July 31, 2009
1 green pollinator, 1 brown pollinator, 1 maybe cricket with fuzzy grayish fizz on legs…all at coast in San Luis Obispo County, CA
Denise
San Luis Obispo County, CA coast

probably Hairy Necked Tiger Beetle
probably Hairy Necked Tiger Beetle

Dear Denise,
It is impossible for us to respond to every email we receive, so we must select which letters get responses and further cull from those for posting.  It is very difficult for us to deal with three different species in one letter. 

With that clarified, your “1 maybe cricket with fuzzy grayish fiss on legs” is actually a  Tiger Beetle, in the genus Cicindela which has numerous species continent wide that resemble your individual. 

You may scan the possibilities on BugGuide as we have done in an attempt to properly identify your individual. We believe the Hairy-Necked Tiger Beetle, Cicindela hirticollis, it a strong candidate for the proper identification. 

According to BugGuide, it is found in California, and there is a photograph of a specimen collected in Marin County.  There is also a set of photos of a live specimen in Ventura County. 

It also resembles the Pacific Coast Tiger Beetle, Cicindela bellissima, though the range of that species, according to BugGuide, is more north, though the range map might not be comprehensive. 

If you resubmit your other requests with more a more detailed letter, we may be able to provide an identification if time permits.

Letter 9 – Harmless Carolina Tiger Beetle: Dead after entering home

what is this called?
August 9, 2009
I don’t see these very often, but this one got inside or I wouldn’t have had to kill it. It is a gorgeous bug, with irridescent colours and moves really fast. and i’m just curious what it’s called.
thanks, Kelli
Griffin, Georgia

Carolina Tiger Beetle
Carolina Tiger Beetle

Dear Kelli,
This is a harmless predatory Carolina Tiger Beetle, Tetracha carolina, also known as the Pan American Big Headed Tiger Beetle.  Tiger Beetles are no threat to you, your family or your home. 

It probably was attracted to lights which is why it left its typical habitat of, according to BugGuide:  “Sandbanks of rivers, pastures, open, disturbed areas. Often found near water. Nocturnal, found under boards, rocks, trash, etc. during day” and entered your home.

Unnecessary Carnage Comment
August 9, 2009
RE: unnecessary carnage
I love your site, and visit it several times a day. Many thanks for posting such lovely images and so much information (you helped me ID a one-eyed Sphinx moth here in Seattle)!

I also love the fact that you tell folks when they have committed an act of unnecessary carnage, but sadly, you have been very hesitant to do so lately… Please don’t let one or two unhinged people keep you from providing a vital service- letting humans know that insects are innocent until proven guilty!
Leah S.

Letter 10 – Injured Common Shore Tiger Beetle

Subject: Soldier/Futuristic Robot Bug! Crazy moulter??
Location: Evanston, IL lakefront
May 23, 2013 7:13 am
Chicago suburb: Evanston, IL
Lakefront (Lake Michigan)
Dog beach
Small, I would say an inch or less than one inch long
Crazy looking!
Camouflage warrior hard shell on the outside & metallic green robo-bug on the inside (with wings) but did NOT seem to be a bug inside a bug, but rather one single bug that was alive.
Would love to know what this thing is!!
Thanks!
Signature: Izumi

Unidentified Tiger Beetle
Common Shore Tiger Beetle

Dear Izumi,
It might take us some time to identify this Tiger Beetle  in the subfamily Cicindelinae
that is missing an elytra.

Update:  Ides of March, 2019
We just received a second comment that this is a Common Shore Tiger Beetle, Cicindela repanda.

Letter 11 – Japanese Tiger Beetle

What is this Rainbow beetle?
Location: Okinawa, Japan
December 3, 2010 7:04 am
Hi, I snapped a few photos of this rainbow-colored beetle near a waterfall in Okinawa, a southern island of Japan. There were several of these beetles buzzing around the rocks along the side of the creek. What is this beetles name?
Signature: Hooray for Bugs!

Japanese Tiger Beetle

Dear Hooray for Bugs,
This is probably one of the most colorful Tiger Beetles in the subfamily Cicindelinae that we have ever seen photographed.  We believe it is
Cicindela japonica based on this image posted to The Flying Kiwi.  Its common name is appropriately the Japanese Tiger Beetle and we found numerous images on Flickr.

Letter 12 – “Spotless” Six Spotted Tiger Beetle

What’s this Canadian bug?
Hi – my dog tripped over this bug sitting on the ground at my cottage near Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada this past weekend. The bug was brilliant metallic-green/blue and did not fly or crawl away when the dog nudged it. About a thumbnail in length, quite spiney looking legs. Snow cover melted about 3 weeks ago. As you can see from picture, trees include; maples, birch, poplar, pine, spruce.
Do you know what it is? Is it a ‘good’ bug e.g. will not harm the trees?
Thanks, Susan.

Hi Susan,
Thank you for a beautiful photo of a Tiger Beetle, Family Cicindelidae. These are predatory beetles that definitely will not harm trees. They attack other insects. They are good fliers as well as great runners.

Probably your guy was just lethargic because of the cold weather. They are also much prized by collectors. We are going to write Eric Eaton, a true expert, to see if we can get an exact species name for you.

Thanks so much for your reply. Since you identified it, I was able to search Internet to find information and articles – looks like different Canadian provinces have variety of different tiger beetles.

Photos I saw close to my bug were from Ontario, however they had very distinct spots which I did not observe on my bug. Really interesting to read all about it. Lately I made a conscious decision to slow down and look and learn more about the wildlife who live where I live and visit.

Just occurred to me this Spring how little I know about the bugs and other insects I frequently encounter in my wanderings – usually too distracted running from voracious hoards of black flies in Spring I guess!
Thanks, Susan.

Update (08/22/2006)
Hello Lisa Anne and Daniel, I recently came across your website and I was pleased to see such a vibrant (and well-done) site.

I’m an entomologist and evolutionary biologist (specializing on the systematics, taxonomy and evolution of tiger beetles and their close relatives) and I have to say that I’m impressed with your accuracy rate!

It’s much, much better than other comparable sites I’ve come across over the years. The two of you must really love insects. I’ll bookmark your site and check it out when I’m having trouble sleeping again!


That species of tiger beetle is Cicindela sexguttata. In Ontario they are quite variable in markings, ranging from no spots to six spots or in rare cases more than six.
Daniel P. Duran
Dept. of Biological Sciences
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Tiger Beetles

Related Posts

15 Comments. Leave new

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

keyboard_arrow_up