Cicindela lepida

Geographic Range

Ghost tiger beetles are found in appropriate habitat throughout a wide range. These tiger beetles are found throughout most of the Midwestern United States from the southern Great Lakes region and the Mississippi River Valley west to the Rocky Mountains and into northern Arizona and western Nevada. They are also found along the Hudson River Valley and the mid-Atlantic seaboard. (Pearson, et al., 2006)


Ghost tiger beetles are found in sandy soils, including dunes and sandy blowouts in fields and forests, and in dry, well-drained soils with little vegetation. They are found on light colored substrates, making them very difficult to see. They are described as dune specialists. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

Physical Description

Ghost tiger beetles are small tiger beetles, from 8 to 12 mm long as adults, with light colored, coppery green, or reddish-bronze head and thorax and almost entirely light colored elytra. Some individuals have brownish markings on the elytra. They are coppery green on their lower surface as well, with white bristles or hairs covering the undersurface and head. The legs and antennae are light colored as well, but can be reddish-brown. The labrum has 1 tooth and 12 long setae. Male and female tiger beetles are distinguished by the presence of brush-like tarsal pads on the male's forelegs, used to hang on to the female during mating. Females have a shallow groove on their prothorax that helps males to hang on during mating. There are no described subspecies. They may be confused with Cicindela dorsalis dorsalis, northeastern beach tiger beetles, but these are restricted to Atlantic coastal beaches. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

Like all tiger beetle larvae, ghost tiger beetle larvae are grub-like, with an armored head and an enlarged portion of the 5th abdominal segment that bears two pairs of large hooks. They have large mandibles and 6 small eyes on the head. Larvae establish burrows and wait for passing prey near the top of the burrow, they retreat into the deeper parts of the burrow if disturbed. Ghost tiger beetles go through 3 instar stages. Third instars are 14 to 16 mm long, with bronze-green on the pronotum and head. Their setae (bristles) are transparent and long. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range length
    8 to 12 mm
    0.31 to 0.47 in


Ghost tiger beetles spend most of their lives as larvae, burrowed into the sand. In their 2nd year they pupate, metamorphosing into adults. (Leonard and Bell, 1999)


Ghost tiger beetles find mates in mid to late summer. Specific observations of mating are not reported for ghost tiger beetles. As in most tiger beetles, however, males generally run at females during the mating period and jump on to their backs. They use their jaws and forelegs to hold onto the prothorax of the female, which has a groove that makes it easier to hold on. If the male is not dislodged by the female, then he can successfully copulate with her. Males often continue to hang onto the female for several hours after copulation to prevent another male from mating with her. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

Females lay about 50 light colored eggs in individual holes in the sand during summer, generally in July. Larvae hibernate during their first and second winters, they reach the second instar stage before their first winter and the third instar stage before their second winter. In the early summer of the following year they pupate and emerge as adults in June and July. Adults then mate, lay eggs, and die. Ghost tiger beetles have multiple broods that breed in alternating years in the same area. (Leonard and Bell, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Ghost tiger beetles breed each year where they occur, however it is different broods that breed each year. Each brood reproduces every 3rd year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in mid to late summer.
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 years

Females select appropriate sites to lay their eggs, one at a time. Larvae build their burrows at that site, so it is important that the site is well chosen. Once the female deposits the eggs, there is no further parental investment. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female


Ghost tiger beetles are thought to live up to 3 years in the wild. However, they live for only about a month as adults and for 2 or slightly more years as larvae. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 (high) years


Ghost tiger beetles are solitary and secretive, freezing when they detect a threat. They are active from March to October but are most common during the warmest months, June and July. They tend to take shelter during the hottest parts of the day and are most often seen in the morning, evening, and at night. They fly fairly short distances, usually only 2 to 5 meters, although they will be carried farther by strong winds. They are attracted to lights. They dig burrows in sand and loose soil to escape the heat and use other forms of behavioral thermoregulation, such as basking to warm or holding their bodies above the substrate to help cool themselves. Larvae are found in deep burrows with a shallow funnel at the mouth of the burrow. Estimates of burrow depth range from 60 cm to 3 m deep. They overwinter in their burrows and pupate in the deepest portion of the burrow. (Choate, Jr., 2003; Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

Home Range

There is no information on home range in ghost tiger beetles. Larvae remain in their burrow for extended periods. (Leonard and Bell, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Tiger beetles have large eyes and acute vision that they use to help find prey and avoid predators. Interestingly, they can move faster than their visual acuity can keep up. When they see prey, they quickly run after it, but then must stop again to find the prey visually. Tiger beetle adults also have ears (tympana) on their abdomen underneath the elytra. They may be used to help detect predators that produce sounds, such as bats, but more research is needed. Larvae use their eyes to detect danger and prey and are capable of focusing well. They also use vibrations to detect passing animals. (Dillon and Dillon, 1961; Pearson, et al., 2006)

Food Habits

Ghost tiger beetle larvae sit and wait near the top of their burrows until a passing insect falls in to the funnel shaped mouth of the burrow. They use the extended portion and spines on their 5th abdominal segment to hold themselves in place near the top of the burrow and their long, curved jaws to grab the insect and then consume them in the burrow. (Dillon and Dillon, 1961)

Adult ghost tiger beetles use vision to detect and chase prey. They eat small arthropods, often primarily ants, and grab them with their jaws. They then chew up the prey in the mouth where a strong digestive enzyme breaks prey down into a nutrient soup. The nutrients are swallowed and small balls made up of the indigestible parts of the prey are spit out. The digestive enzyme is so strong that it will digest holes in bug nets used to catch these beetles. (Leonard and Bell, 1999)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods


Ghost tiger beetles take advantage of their coloration as a form of camouflage. When a threat is detected, they freeze so that the predator can’t see them. They are also capable of brief flights and can run quickly. Larvae drop to the bottom of their burrows when disturbed, where they may be difficult to reach. They can also hold onto the walls of their burrow with their enlarged 5th segment, making it difficult to extract them. Adults may be preyed on by any number of insectivorous animals, including spiders, robber flies (Asilidae), lizards, toads, birds, such as flycatchers (Muscicapidae) and shrikes (Laniidae), raccoons, and skunks. Larvae may be preyed on by ants, hister beetles (Histeridae), and soldier beetles (Cantharidae). Larvae fall prey to ground-foraging woodpeckers, ants, and wasps. (Dillon and Dillon, 1961; Pearson, et al., 2006)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Ghost tiger beetles co-occur in some areas with big sand tiger beetles (Cicindela formosa generosa) and festive tiger beetles (Cicindela scutellaris lecontei). Because they are specialists on largely undisturbed dunes habitats, they are good indicators of habitat quality. (Leonard and Bell, 1999)

Larvae are especially vulnerable to parasitoid wasps, especially the tiphiid wasp genera Methoca and Pterombrus. Parasitoid wasps paralyze a larva with a sting and then lay their eggs on the larva and closes the entrance to the burrow. The parasitoid larvae then consume the tiger beetle larva as they develop and emerge from the burrow as adults. Parasitoid bee-flies (Anthrax) lay eggs on the substrate near a tiger beetle larval burrow and roll them into the burrow, where they develop at the bottom and then crawl onto the tiger-beetle larva. When the tiger beetle larva begins to pupate, the bee-fly larvae consume it. Mites also parasitize tiger beetles. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • tiphiid wasps (Methoca)
  • tiphiid wasps (Pterombrus)
  • parasitoid bee-flies (Anthrax)
  • mites (Acari)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Ghost tiger beetles are undisturbed dune specialists and may be important environmental indicators of undisturbed habitat. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson and Vogler, 2001; Pearson, et al., 2006)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no adverse effects of ghost tiger beetles on humans.

Conservation Status

Ghost tiger beetles have been extirpated from portions of their previous range through habitat destruction, mainly from sand excavation activities and the stabilization of sandy areas as vegetation encroaches. They are considered rare throughout their range, but are not currently protected. (Pearson, et al., 2006)

Other Comments

Cicindela lepida is part of the ellipsed-winged tiger beetle group (Ellisoptera). (Pearson, et al., 2006)


Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


a period of time when growth or development is suspended in insects and other invertebrates, it can usually only be ended the appropriate environmental stimulus.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


having more than one female as a mate at one time


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


Choate, Jr., P. 2003. A field guide and identification manual for Florida and Eastern U.S. tiger beetles. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

Dillon, E., L. Dillon. 1961. A manual of common beetles of eastern North America. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, and Company.

Leonard, J., R. Bell. 1999. Northeastern tiger beetles: a field guide to tiger beetles of New England and eastern Canada. New York: CRC Press.

Pearson, D., C. Knisley, C. Kazilek. 2006. A field guide to the tiger beetles of the United States and Canada: Identification, Natural History, and Distribution of the Cicindelidae. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pearson, D., A. Vogler. 2001. Tiger beetles: the evolution, ecology, and diversity of the cicindelids. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Wallis, J. 1961. The Cicindelidae of Canada. Winnipeg: University of Toronto Press.