Summer 2001

Tiger of the Dunes - The Northern Dune Tiger Beetle

Article by Stephen Cross

The fearsome looking Tiger Beetle
© Paul Wisse
This long-legged, fast running, conspicuous, striped beetle is found on the sandy areas of the dunes from Birkdale to Altcar Rifle Range. Though locally abundant on the coast here, it is found on only two dune systems in Britain, Sefton and the Drigg-Eskmeals Dunes of Cumbria. It was found on dunes in North Wales, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Due to this very restricted range it is classified as a Vulnerable species. However it is commoner on the Continent, Britain is at the north-western limit of the range of this heat-loving beetle.

Tiger beetle, the Cicindela hybrida, eating a spider. © Rob Wolstenholme
This beetle, with the scientific name Cicindela hybrida, loves hot sunshine, the hotter the better, in dull or cold weather it hides away. They are active April to October on the open sand along paths and other dry open sand areas of the dunes. It is a fierce, active predator that will take any small insect (especially ants) or other invertebrate as food and chew it with its large 'fangs'. They have good eyesight and fly readily, you usually notice them 'leapfrogging' just ahead of you as you walk along a sandy path, just keeping far enough away from you, not allowing you too close or allowing a good view. If you do see them clearly they are a beautiful beetle of brown with creamy-yellow stripes and tinges and iridescences of red, green and purple.

Breeding occurs in early summer and the larvae live in burrows in the sand, catching any unwary ant or other insect within range of their powerful jaws as they sit at the mouth of the burrow. They can take two years to become a breeding adult with larvae and overwintering adults spending the winter buried in the sand.

The conservation of this species is finding the right balance of enough open sand for this beetle to live in, without going too far and opening the dunes to just bare sand and losing the binding vegetation. What is required is a natural mosaic of vegetated and bare sand that supports this and other species such as bees, wasps, flies and other beetles.

Plans have been written at national and local levels outlining the actions that need to be taken to conserve this important species of the Sefton Coast dunes. The plan for this beetle is just one of thirty for important species or species groups in north Merseyside being prepared in the North Merseyside Biodiversity Action Plan.