July 15, 2019

Gravel/sand area at Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin

These sand-loving “tigers” are of the beetle variety. Tiger beetles are voracious predators of other insects. They have great vision and massive jaws. They ambush and pursue their victims on foot…and they are very fast.

And they are a colorful lot as well. My publishing company recently put out a field guide to all 21 species of tiger beetles in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is my goal to photograph all 21….and the Ghost Tiger Beetle would be number 14.

Ghost Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera lepida) [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

On this mid July trip to Madison, Wisconsin to bring my kids to “Nana Camp,” I decided to stop at the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area on the advise of Wisconsin tiger beetle guru Mike Reese (Mike is also the photographer for our Tiger Beetles of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan guide).

My goal was to see and photograph this beautiful creature…the aptly-named Ghost Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera lepida).

Ghost Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera lepida) [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

I knew that they seem to prefer fine-grained sand, so I searched an area at the base of the gravel flats where the finer sand had washed out from rain and erosion…and I got lucky! After about 45 minutes of searching, I saw movement on the fine sand. But as soon as the tiger beetle quit running it seemed to disappear into the background. Their pale elytra (wing coverings) are the perfect camouflage for their light-colored sandy habitats.

This guy went down into this burrow several times. I caught him dropping down in this shot.

You can see the lighter-colored sorted fine sand where the Ghost Tiger Beetles occurred.

Rain has washed and sorted the finer-grained sand to the base of the gravel flats. This is where the Ghost Tiger Beetles were found.

Ghost Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera lepida) [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

Can you spot the “Ghost”? They are aptly-named species. You can spot them when the run, but as soon as they stop and remain motionless, they disappear. Ghost indeed!

Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela punctulata) [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

This tiny tiger is the Punctured Tiger Beetle, which is named for the minute pits on its elytra (wing coverings).

Big Sand Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa) [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

On the other end of the size spectrum is the Big Sand Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa). It is BIG and it loves sand…Well named!

Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris subspecies Lecontei)
[Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

A colorful (and variable) tiger beetle is the wonderfully named Festive Tiger Beetle. It can be mostly green (as above) or mostly red (as in photo below).

Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris subspecies Lecontei)
[Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

Here is a red and green Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris subspecies Lecontei). One of our most beautiful species.

Velvet Ant [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

Tiger beetles aren’t the only sand-lovers found here. I saw a couple Velvet Ants (family Mutillidae), a group of insects that parasitize ground-dwelling wasps and bees that are found in sparsely-vegetated sandy areas.

Grasshopper laying eggs in the sand.

Three-banded Robber Fly (Stichopogon trifasciatus)
[Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

Robber flies are about as ruthless a predator as tiger beetles! As one naturalist stated, “We’re lucky they aren’t the size of golden retrievers!”

This is the Three-banded Robber Fly (Stichopogon trifasciatus), a common and small robber fly, but note that it has captured an even smaller fly.


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