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Golden-spotted Tiger Beetle
Fig. 1: Cicindela aurulenta (Fabricius 1801), Female. Image by: Darren Yeo
Table of Contents
Mating Behaviour and Oviposition
Predation & Parasitism
Other Adaptive Behaviour
Ecological & Economic Potential
Morphology and Identification
General Anatomy and Characteristics
Taxonomy and Systematics
Rearing & Breeding
is a small yet highly conspicuous tiger beetle (Cicindelinae) that inhabits a wide range of sandy habitats. It is a common species in Singapore and Southeast Asia, and may be found near shorelines, mangrove fragments and forest trails
. Its distinct appearance and splendid colouration make it highly charismatic and recognizable. Tiger beetles play an important role in the ecosystem as generalist predators and have been reported as effective biological pest-control agents.
Southeast Asian tiger beetles are however, not as well studied or characterized as their
more temperate counterparts, despite the Indo-Malayas having the highest tiger beetle diversity
. Their larvae are even more poorly understood
, as will be shown here, is particularly amenable to rearing and breeding in laboratory conditions with minimal effort, thereby making it an excellent candidate species for further studies in the Indo-Malayas.
Fig. 2: Image by Thomas Brown. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
was first described in Sumatra but has a rather large range in the Indo-Malayas.
s. str. and its various subspecies have been identified in the following areas:
can be found in a wide range of sandy habitats
, including riverbars, forest trails, sand dunes near shorelines and mangroves. The Singaporean specimens were collected in sand banks near mangrove fragments.
Tiger beetles (Cicindelinae) are primarily generalist predators that feed on any invertebrates they manage to catch with their powerful mandibles. However, they have been known to feed on fruits
and scavenge even on dead vertebrates. They actively forage for food, spotting prey with their keen eyesight and quickly running them down. Tiger beetles have been known to run at speeds up to 1.2 miles per hour, which is extremely impressive given their small size. Research has shown that tiger beetles pursue their prey in a stop-and-go discontinuous manner as the speed of their movement confounds the continuous detection of prey
. After capture, prey is dismembered by their powerful mandibles and digestive juices from the midgut are injected while chewing. The dissolved fluid is then sucked up and ingested
Vid. 1: Video showing the stop-start foraging pattern tiger beetles exhibit.
Obtained from YouTube under
adults are likewise ferocious predators and are able to tackle prey nearly twice their size. However, they seem to exhibit a size preference, where prey of 2-4 mm was rejected and prey of 5-7 mm was preferred to prey larger than 2 cm. Adults have been shown to recognize prey by familiarity of size, shape and location
. As such, they should ideally be fed similar prey to that of their native environment.
adults were able to survive on a diet of houseflies (
) and mealworms (
larvae), although they much preferred the former
. The adults may go over two weeks without food, but this compromises their oviposition rates.
Vid. 2: The
bred were fed live houseflies (
The one in the foreground is masticating its prey with its powerful mandibles.
Video by: Darren Yeo
larvae are also predatorial, but employ a different hunting strategy. The larvae lie in wait in vertical burrows and ambush potential prey they happen to encounter. Small enough prey are grasped by the larva’s large mandibles and dragged into the burrow for consumption. The hooks on their dorsal side anchor them to the burrow walls while they subdue larger prey. The visual perception of tiger beetle larvae is complex enough to discriminate moving targets and background
. First/second-instar larvae were able to subsist on small termite workers, which are easily obtained and kept alive.
Vid. 3a & 3b: Videos of
first instar larvae capturing termite prey and dragging them into their burrows.
Videos by: Darren Yeo
Mating Behaviour and Oviposition
Fig. 3: Mating pair of Cicindela aurulenta, with the male's mandibles around the female's coupling sulcus. Image taken by and used with permission from Nicky Bay.
Male tiger beetles recognize mates by sight
and hence may sometimes attempt to mount conspecific males. This results in brief wrestling/aggressive behaviour where the errant male is thrown off. This form of rejection was also in observed in
male-female pairs, thus exhibiting some sort of mate rejection and female choice behaviour.
If the mounting is successful, the male grabs the female’s thoracic sulcus with his mandibles and adhesive pads on his prothoraic tarsi, which enables him to hold on to the female during copulation. The “coupling sulcus” is a groove in the female’s thorax that is complementary to the mandible shape of males of the same species. This is believed to be a selection mechanism against interspecific breeding
. During copulation,
males will occasionally hold their metathoraic legs in the air.
, like most other tiger beetles, exhibit a form of mate guarding. A
fter copulation, the male will remain mounted upon the female’s back for an extended period of time, before eventually being thrown off. The same male will attempt to procure multiple copulations if given the opportunity.
Vid. 4: Video of a
Video by and used with permission from Foo Maosheng.
Once the females have accumulated sufficient resources, they will dig a chamber in sandy substrate with their abdomen and lay a single egg in each chamber. On hatching, the beetle larvae will enlarge the chamber into a vertical burrow, the depth of which depends on the instar, species, season and substrate
. The amount of eggs laid is constrained by the amount of food the female is able to obtain
larvae were observed to require about 2 weeks for development from oviposition to eclosure of first instar larvae from the egg, in tropical climates. Tiger beetles generally require 9-29 days for this stage of development, depending on species and temperature
Larvae will undergo three instars before pupation, which may take 1-4 years, although 2 years is the most common natural time period
. However, some species that have been extremely well-fed under laboratory conditions may develop from egg to adult in 60 days
larvae kept for observation have not yet been observed to moult, but this is difficult to ascertain as the larvae are elusive and hardly ever venture out of their burrows.
Before pupation, tiger beetle larvae will plug the entrance of their burrows and dig a pupation chamber
. Ecdysisinto pupal form lasts a few minutes and time taken until emergence can vary from 18-30 days. Adults will emerge from the substrate about 3 days after pupal ecdysis.
Predation & Parasitism
Fig. 4: Tiphia femorata (Tiphiidae), a major parasite of beetle larvae. Image by: James Lindsey. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.
The main predators of tiger beetles include bats, mites, lizards, conspecifics, robber flies and dragonflies
. However, tiger beetles face greater threat from parasitoids than predators
. Several wasps from the family Tiphiidae are specialist parasites that paralyze the tiger beetle larvae with their stings, deposit their eggs on the larvae and seal the burrow
. The wasp larva emerges and feeds on the beetle larva.
Another major parasitoid of tiger beetles are bombyliid flies of the genus
. The female fly will lay her eggs into the tunnel opening of the beetle larvae, where the eggs will tumble into. The larva ecloses, attaches itself onto the beetle’s thorax and consumes the beetle larva only when it begins pupation.
Fig. 5: Anthrax sp. flies (Bombyliidae) are another group of beetle larvae parasites. Image by: ©entomart.
Fig. 6: Cicindela aurulenta's iridescent colouring and maculation may serve defensive purposes. Image by: Darren Yeo
Adult tiger beetles have been known to use escape strategies (running and flying), hiding (camouflage and crypsis), warning colouration, mimicry and chemical defence as anti-predatory mechanisms
will first react with quick bursts of short flight when initially approached by large predators or disturbances. This skittish behaviour, coupled with excellent eyesight, make them difficult to collect without a net. If challenged by smaller predators, they might attempt to defend themselves with their formidable mandibles and will bite collectors if not handled properly.
sports an iridescent or metallic colouration, with six large visible spots. Iridescent colouration reflect a narrow range of light wavelengths and hence may change colour dramatically at different viewing angles, as well as darken in low light conditions, thus possibly serving anti-predatory functions
. This iridescence may also serve as a flash colouration, where a dramatic change in colouration while the beetle takes flight may startle predators enough for the beetle to make its escape.
The spots on the dorsal side of its elytra may be parasemetic colouration, serving as eyespots or deflectors that either ward off predators or deflect attention from more critical parts of the body
More hypothetical reasons for
unique colouration may be aposematic colouration or Müllerian mimicry, where bright warning colours are used as signals of toxicity or merely as a copy of a similarly patterned aposemeti
c species. However, no poisonous tiger beetles have been recorded and given its large range, it is unlikely that
would be sympatric with an aposemetic lookalike. More research is necessary to determine the function of
Tiger beetle larvae have few defensive mechanisms, relying mainly on their burrows for protection. They will either drop to the base of their burrows or may leave their burrows and flee to another location, where another burrow will be excavated.
Vid. 5: Video of larvae of the Japanese Tiger Beetle (
Cicindela chinensis japonica
) burrowing into sandy substrate.
The burrow is integral to the larva's defensive and thermoregulatory adaptations.
Obtained from YouTube under
Other Adaptive Behaviour
Fig. 7: Cicindela aurulenta exhibiting stilting behaviour. Image taken by and used with permission from Nicky Bay.
Many tiger beetle species,
inclusive, inhabit areas with high temperatures. Being poikilotherms, they require some form of thermoregulatory behaviour. Tiger beetles have been observed to stand with their legs fully extended to keep their body away from the hot substrate, a behaviour known as stilting
. They may also seek out cooler microhabitats and remain inactive there. The reflective underside of
and extensive coat of white setae could be useful in reflecting radiation from the substrate surface
Conversely, when temperature falls to below comfortable levels, tiger beetles have been observed to bask with their sterna against warm substrates and thereby gain heat conductively
, being a tropical species, prefers higher temperatures and will become sluggish in air conditioned areas.
Tiger beetle larvae have been known to plug their burrows and become inactive during hot dry seasons
. In extreme conditions of desiccation and flooding, they may also relocate their burrow. Some species of tiger beetle larvae also construct turrets above their burrows to thermoregulate at lower temperatures
larvae have not been observed to display such turrent-building behaviour, although the burrow is actively and meticulously maintained by the larva; if the burrow entrance caves in or is covered, the larva will dig a new entrance or remove any debris from it. As the burrows of
are on seashores and near mangrove clusters, they risk occasional inundation during high tides. It has been shown however, that species occupying such habitats have an unusually high resistance to anoxic conditions, either by depressing metabolism
or possibly having sufficient oxygen in their burrows
Ecological & Economic Potential
Tiger beetles, being voracious generalist predators, are believed to be potential biological controls for pest species. Pest organisms reported to have been brought under control by tiger beetles include a variety of paddy pests from India
, mosquito larvae in West Africa
, mole crickets from the southeastern United States
, twolined spittlebugs and fall armyworms
, etc.. Conversely, some studies have also suggested tiger beetles to be ineffective biocontrol agents
. It is thus difficult to make generalizations and more local studies are necessary to assess impact on pest species. The ecological role of
in its native habitat has not been assessed.
Fig. 8: The eye-catching colouration of most tiger beetles puts them at risk from over-collecting. Image taken by and used with permission from Nicky Bay.
Major threats affecting tiger beetles mainly include habitat loss and disturbance, invasive species introduction and over-collecting, particularly because of their attractive colouration
. Several North American species have been elevated for protection under the Endangered Species Act
and are being monitored. However, Indo-Malayan species are much more poorly studied and have no form of protection.
has a wide range and is hence unlikely to face global extinction. The Singaporean population though, could be threatened locally via habitat loss, seeing how mangrove fragments and natural shorelines are not particularly prioritized in Singapore’s changing landscape and ever-increasing demands for space. Additionally, with natural habitats becoming more fragmented and coming into closer proximity with urban areas, these tiger beetles, being attracted to night-lights, face another source of potential risk.
, with its charismatic appearance and colouration, could be a potential flagship species for habitat conservation.
Tiger beetles have been proposed as good bioindicator taxa for conservation research
, owing to their well known taxonomy, well understood biology and natural history, easily surveyed populations, broad geographic range, degree of habitat specialization and potential economic importance
. More recent studies have also reported the use of tiger beetles as indicator species for habitat degradation and trends in conservation biology
and other native cicindelids could potentially be important bioindicator taxa for Singapore’s mangrove fragments.
Morphology and Identification
General Anatomy and Characteristics
Fig. 9: Cicindela aurulenta adult, dorsal view, showing general beetle anatomy. Image by Darren Yeo.
Fig. 10: Cicindela aurulenta adult, fronta view, showing tiger beetle mouthparts. Image by Darren Yeo.
Fig. 11: Cicindela aurulenta larva, dorsal view, showing general beetle larva anatomy. Image by Darren Yeo.
The larvae of
has not been formally described nor imaged. I have managed to rear first/second-instar larvae thus far and have provided whole images of them below, as well as particular key characteristics generally used for larval identification. Any expertise on tiger beetle larvae description and identification is extremely
Fig. 12: Cicindela aurulenta first instar larvae, dorsal view. Image by: Darren Yeo
Fig. 13: Cicindela aurulenta first instar larvae, ventral view. Image by: Darren Yeo
Fig. 14: Cicindela aurulenta first instar larvae, lateral view. Image by: Darren Yeo
Fig. 15: Hooks and setae on 5th abdominal tergite, dorsal view. Image by: Darren Yeo
Fig. 16: Pronotum and associated setae, dorsal view. Image by: Darren Yeo
The following identifying features have been adapted from "The Naturalist's Library"
, with reference to
s. str. as first described in "Systema Eleutheratorum"
. No identification keys including this species have yet been devised.
Dusky at base and sides
Fig. 17: Dorsal view of labrum. Image by: Darren Yeo
Deep black with yellowish spot at base
Fig. 18: Frontal view. Image by: Darren Yeo
Greenish bronze turning into blue
Fig. 19: Ventral view of palps and mouthparts. Image by: Darren Yeo
Four lowest joints greenish bronze turning into blue
Remaining joints dull black
Fig. 20: Dorsal view of antenna. Image by: Darren Yeo
Striated between eyes
Marked with slightly impressed longitudinal lines
Green variegated with blue
Fig. 21: Dorsal view of head. Image by: Darren Yeo
Greenish blue with two large patches of golden green
Fig. 22: Dorsal view of thorax. Image by: Darren Yeo
Duller than other parts of body
Glossed with golden yellow at base and margins
Each marked with four spots of yellowish white
Spot on shoulder (Spot 1) very minute
Spot 3 somewhat crescent shaped
Fig. 23: Dorsal view of abdomen, showing numbered spots on elytra. Image by: Darren Yeo
Body and Legs
Undersides variegated with blue and green with brilliant lustre
Fig. 24: Cicindela aurulenta Ventral view. Image by: Darren Yeo
Tiger beetles exhibit several sexually dimorphic traits, including body size, mandibular length and shape, labrum shape, elytra shape etc.
. The most reliable ways of differentiating between the two sexes seem to be 1) a groove in the female's thorax known as the
(Fig. 25) and 2)
on the tarsi of the prothoraic legs in males (Fig. 26).
also exhibits distinct differences in
pattern (Fig. 27). These characters are further elaborated in the table below.
Fig. 25a: Dorsal (left) and lateral (right) views of male thorax showing absence of the coupling sulcus. Image by: Darren Yeo
Fig. 25b: Dorsal (left) and ventral (right) views of female thorax. Location of the coupling sulcus is outlined in yellow. Image by: Darren Yeo
Fig. 26a: Male prothoraic tarsus with setal pads outlined in yellow. Image by: Darren Yeo
Fig. 26b: Female prothoraic tarsus with absence of setal pads. Image by: Darren Yeo
Fig. 27a: Dorsal view of male head, showing labrum (outlined in yellow) divided by a black bar. Image by: Darren Yeo
Fig. 27b: Dorsal view of female head, showing labrum (outlined in yellow) without the black bar in the middle. Image by: Darren Yeo
Taxonomy and Systematics
Only one synonym exists for
The Zoological Museum - University of Copenhagen (ZMUC) houses the lectotype of
Cicindela aurulenta aurulenta
Cicindela aurulenta flavomaculata
Cicindela aurulenta juxtata
(Acciavatti & Pearson 1989)
Cicindela aurulenta virgula
Tiger beetles typically have many subspecies, due to their many colour variants
and geographical distributions
, resulting in confusion below the species level. Cassola
describes the subspecies of
in the following excerpt:
“This common species was found in a variety of habitats, ranging from riverbars to forest trails. The Bornean specimens belong to the typonominal subspecies, which occurs in Malaysia and Indonesia, while from India eastwards to southern China the ssp.
Acciavatti & Pearson 1989 occurs (Acciavatti & Pearson 1989).”
The subspecies of
thus seem to have varying geographical ranges. The Singaporean subspecies is thus most likely
s. str. as the species overlap between Singapore and Malaysia is rather substantial.
The Taxo-navigation system below is provided by and referenced to
. This reflects the classification of
above the species level.
The tiger beetle phylogeny is still contentious and is continuously being reassessed and stabilized with the introduction of molecular methods and the discovery of new species. Owing to the large number of species within this group and their broad geographical range, no proper worldwide phylogenetic study has been done since 1926
, where less than half of the current number of species has been discovered and molecular data was unavailable. Additionally, such phylogenetic studies are still lacking in the Indo-Malayas.
The Cicindela clade itself is currently accepted as being monophyletic
, but relationships above and below the species level are still contentious. The two main areas of contention are: 1) the placement of the tiger beetle clade and 2) the monophyly of the subgenera in Cicindela.
Fig. 28: Relationships of carabid beetles based solely on morphology. The taxa on the right are unresolved and the arrows show proposed placements. Cicindelinae is highlighted in red, illustrating the difficulty of its placement (Maddison et al., 1999). Obtained and accredited under fair use.
Tiger beetles have been regarded as various monophyletic clades: Cicindelitae within the Carabidae
, as Cicindelidae apart from Carabidae
and as Cicindelini
within Cicindelinae. The most recent phylogenetic analysis places tiger beetles within the carabid phylogeny
, although the placement is again contentious; some have placed the group at a basal position or higher in the tree
. Currently, the most widespread tiger beetle classification nests the group within Carabidae, subfamily Cicindelinae, tribe Cicindelini (eg.
Encyclopedia of Life
Fig. 29: The most current consensus places the Cicindelini within the Carabidae. Tree obtained from a study by Ball et al. (2011) on tiger beetle mandible and labrum evolution. The letters correspond to the lineages studied. Obtained and accredited under fair use.
Another part of the tree that is still being reviewed is a consequence of the splitting of the genus
into some 55 subgenera based mainly on male genitalia. However, a number of the subgenera proposed were not monophyletic
and hence several studies have sought to resolve this division. This is still an ongoing effort as several groups remain hard to place despite the use of molecular methods
now falls under the subgenus
A wide variety of characters have been used to construct these phylogenetic hypotheses. Morphological characters include genitalia
, immunological responses
, eye structure
, elytral pattern
, metathoraic wing structures
, tibial antenna cleaners
as well as mandible and labrum structure
. More recently, molecular analyses have been used to reassess phylogenies, using chromosome number
and exon and intron sequences
The bulk of these phylogenetic studies still suffer from insufficient taxon sampling and diagnostic characters. With heightened sampling of tropical and subtropical species and the increasing feasibility of next generation sequencing, the afore-mentioned issues in tiger beetle phylogeny may finally be resolved.
has not been included in any formal phylogenetic study.
The karyology of tiger beetles is highly interesting as they are one of the few organisms with two to four multiple X sex chromosomes
. These sex chromosomes are unique among insects as they do not form chiasmata and hence do not recombine during meiosis. Instead, these chromosomes do not align in parallel during meiosis but link together at their ends, forming a circle. In the genus
, all but two species have multiple male sex chromosomes (XnY)
. Most species of
have about 14-20 autosomes.
Fig. 30: Mitotic and meiotic chromosomes of Cicindela aurulenta male (left) and female (right), exhibiting multiple X chromosomes (Proença et al., 2004). Obtained and accredited under fair use.
was found to have the following karyotype: 2n = 18 + X1X2X3Y/X1X1X2X2X3X3, thereby having 18 autosomes and one set of sex chromosomes with 3 X chromosomes
. Proença’s study also identified rDNA localization in the X chromosomes, which suggests that these heterosomes are functionally active and also necessary in females. The unusual karyology of cicindelids is still the object of much research and may reveal evolutionary relationships within this speciose group.
Fig. 31: Fluorescent in situ hybridization with 18S probe of Cicindela aurulenta (male) chromosomes. There are two signals in the sex complex and two in an autosomal bivalent (Proença et al., 2004). Obtained and accredited under fair use.
Rearing & Breeding
can be very easily bred in laboratory conditions. Adult individuals are best obtained undamaged by sweep-netting and are easily sexed via the sexually dimorphic characters described above. Larvae have been reported to be easily sampled using a method known as “fishing”, where a piece of grass is dangled at the mouth of the burrow and pulled up when the larvae grab onto it with their mandibles
. This method however, takes some skill and seemed ineffective with first instar
larvae. Substrate from their native habitat should also be obtained to provide gravid females with oviposition sites.
Vid 6: Tiger beetle larvae (
in this case) may be fished out of their burrows with a piece of grass.
Obtained from YouTube under
Fig. 32: Sandy substrate from the beetle's native habitat should be used when rearing them. Image by: Darren Yeo
adults and larvae should be kept at temperatures similar to their native habitat (around 25-32 °C in Singapore). An absorbant material should be kept in the terrarium and moisturized periodically to prevent dehydration. Adults have been found to readily feed on prey of about 5-7 mm, like houseflies (
), but are not too picky. The larvae may be fed on prey small enough to fit into their burrows.
Adults will mate often, but females will only lay if there is sufficient food and a proper substrate for oviposition. To maximize number of offspring and developmental time, both adults and larvae should be fed as much as possible. Adults and larvae may be kept in the same container as
has not been observed to cannibalize offspring, but they are best kept separately.
One should also be wary of the introduction of parasitoids when keeping tiger beetle larvae as they are able to easily decimate cultures.
Fig. 33: A simple terrarium used to rear Cicindela aurulenta adult and larvae. Image by: Darren Yeo
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Pons, J., Barraclough, T. G., Theodorides, K., Cardoso, A., & Vogler, A. P. (2004). Using exon and intron sequences of the gene Mp20 to resolve basal relationships in Cicindela (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae).
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Color and Color-pattern Mechanism of Tiger Beetles, with Twenty-nine Black and Three Colored Plates
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Molecular Biology and Evolution
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Genetics and Molecular Biology
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Muhabbet, K. (2008). Cicindela (Cosmodela) aurulenta Fabr. in North Thailand (Coleoptera, Cicindelidae).
Shigehisa, H. (2002). New record of Cicindela aurulenta Fabricius from Japan (Coleoptera, Cicindelidae).
This webpage would not be possible without the following people:
Mr. Foo Maosheng, who helped me with catching the beetles and provided me with termites, containers and videos.
Dr. Alexey Solodonikov from the Zoological Museum - University of Copenhagen (ZMUC) for information on the type specimens.
Mr. Nicky Bay who kindly agreed to allow me to use his images from
Darren Yeo is contactable at
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