I was doing some aquatic sampling in the pebbly outlet of the Coppermine River I spoke of yesterday. Searching the shoreline for adult insects on the sandy “mud” flats dotted with dwarf willow and tufts of grass, a brownish twitch of movement at my feet caught my attention. It was a beetle, about 6 mm long, with a bronzy hue to its iridescent elytra. It darted quickly, purposefully, across the damp sand.
I pounced. (Ok, my index finger and thumb did). My small quarry in hand, I held it up for a closer inspection, and saw…a TIGER BEETLE???!?!?! Inwardly, I screamed, “TED! I CAUGHT A TIGER BEETLE!” I hurriedly dropped it into a vial. Secure in the knowledge that it was well and truly caught, I took a better look. Hm. The body was chunkier, less elongate than most tiger beetles I’ve seen. The elytra were covered with a beautiful checkerboard pattern of raised rectangular dark patches and lighter-coloured, depressions (foveae) in between. The entire critter gleamed in the sun like a jewel. Was it a tiger beetle? That face, that head…it HAD to be a tiger beetle! (I mean, jeez, I’m way the heck up north, surely some things look a little different up here, right?)
Excited, I spent the next hour and a half scouring the shoreline for more. I caught about a dozen in that time, all with my fingers. Strange, I thought. What happened to the mad dashes and bursts of rapid flight I was used to? Huh. Well, there are flightless tigers, right?
Most of the beetles I nabbed were the bronzy-copper colour pictured above, but I found two other (morphs?) (species?) as well. The first was this green variety:
And the other, of which I only found one, was this spectacular crimson specimen:
Immensely pleased with my find, I practically skipped back to my apartment (as much as one could possibly skip whilst driving her Honda over bumpy tundra). I immediately sat down at my laptop and clicked the BugGuide link in my favourites list to see if I could figure out just who these enigmatic little characters might be.
About five minutes later, I realized I’d been fooled. These were not the tiger beetles I wanted them so badly to be. Rather, they were representatives of a very Cicindela-like Carabid subfamily, Elaphrinae (Elaphrus sp.): the Marsh Ground Beetles. Poorly drained, wet soils near water’s edge is their preferred habitat, and exactly where I found mine:
Right on that sandy strip between the water and the willows; I did look among the vegetation as well but didn’t have as much luck there as simply on the exposed sand.
So, not tiger beetles. ~Sigh~ The blow is softened, however, by the fact that this is my first encounter with this particular subfamily of ground beetles.
So, Ted, I guess I’ll just have to keep looking.