Cicindela scutellaris

Geographic Range

Festive tiger beetles are found throughout the eastern United States, from eastern Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico east to the Atlantic Coast as far south as the mid-Florida peninsula and southern Maine. They are found throughout eastern Texas and into southernmost Canada, from Alberta to Quebec. They are not found in the Appalachian Mountains. (Pearson, et al., 2006)


Festive tiger beetles are found in sandy habitats, including dunes, exposed sandy areas in grasslands, road cuts, and the sandy floors of pine and oak-pine forests. (Pearson, et al., 2006)

Physical Description

Festive tiger beetles are 11 to 14 mm long and brightly colored. They are the most variable species of tiger beetle in the United States, with 7 or 8 subspecies. Color ranges from deep red to orange, blue, green, and black in various populations. In all populations, however, males have a white labrum and hairy front and females have a dark, even black, labrum (covering of the upper mandible, which forms the roof of the mouth) with hairs near the inner edge of their eyes. The labrum has 3 teeth and there are 15 to 20 large bristles on the first antennae segment. The elytra are rounded on their posterior edge and often have light colored spots on their lateral edges which sometimes fuse to form a light band. In some subspecies the marginal spots form a distinct triangle that points towards the dorsal midline. Some subspecies lack spots on the elytra. The elytra are sometimes marked with a few, scattered indentations. Their legs are relatively short and the body is robust. 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. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

The subspecies of festive tiger beetles have been considered incipient species by some researchers, representing differentiation in isolation. However, the striking polymorphism in coloration among subspecies could be adaptations to the particular camouflage and predator avoidance pressures of different regions. Laboratory research on rearing tiger beetles in different conditions shows that color and spotting patterns can be influenced by temperature and moisture. Recognized subspecies include: C. s. scutellaris, with dark green or blue head and thorax and bright orange elytra in the western portion of the range, C. s. flavoviridis, found in central Texas and distinguished by a yellow-green metallic color and 2 to 6 white spots on the elytra, C. s. lecontei, which occurs throughout the northeast and Midwestern states and are either maroon or green on the head, thorax, and elytra and with a light colored border on the elytra, C. s. rugata, found from eastern Texas to western Arkansas and are uniformly blue with no light markings on the elytra, C. s. rugifrons, this subspecies is highly variable, from green to black, and is found along the Atlantic seaboard from Massachusets to the Carolinas, C. s. unicolor, found from Georgia to the Gulf coast and into Missouri and Tennessee, is blue to light green with no white markings, and C. s. yampae, with green head and thorax and purple-red elytra with a wide, white posterior margin and found only in northwestern Colorado. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson and Vogler, 2001; 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. Festive tiger beetles have 3 instar stages. Third instars are 20 to 24 mm long. The head and pronotum are purple-bronze, with a greenish cast. They have white setae on the head and pronotum and dark setae on the rest of the body. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range length
    11 to 14 mm
    0.43 to 0.55 in


Festive tiger beetles spend their first 14 months in different larval instar stages. They then pupate, metamorphosing into adults. (Leonard and Bell, 1999)


There are no specific reports of mating in Cicindela scutellaris. 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)

Festive tiger beetles have been observed mating between May 14 and June 4. Females lay about 50 eggs in dry sand or sandy soils. Each egg is deposited into its own hole, about 5 to 10 mm deep. Larvae develop to the 3rd instar stage in their first summer and hibernate over the winter. In the following spring they become active and begin feeding, then pupate in June and July. They emerge as adults in August, often after a soaking rain. Adults overwinter in a burrow and are sexually mature when they emerge the next spring. (Leonard and Bell, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Festive tiger beetle populations breed each year, but broods of festive tiger beetles take 2 years to go through the life cycle, so breed only every two years.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in late May and early June.
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 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. After the eggs are laid 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


Lifespan is thought to be 2 years in the wild, with most of this spent in the larval stage. (Pearson, et al., 2006)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 (high) years


Festive tiger beetles seek shelter from extreme heat by hiding under vegetation or burrowing into holes in the sand, where they also rest for the night. They also thermoregulate behaviorally in other ways, such as basking to warm or holding their bodies above the substrate to cool themselves. These tiger beetles are diurnal. They are active during the spring and fall, becoming inactive in the hottest months of summer, June and July, and in the winter, from October to March. They may emerge on warm, winter days in the southern parts of their range. Both adults and larvae seek shelter in burrows to overwinter. The burrows of larvae are generally 15 to 55 cm deep. They are usually found under the shade of vegetation and not in open areas of shifting sand. Larvae pupate in a chamber dug out of the substrate to one side of their burrow. (Choate, Jr., 2003; Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

Home Range

Home range size is not reported in the literature. Larvae are restricted to their burrows, constituting much of the lifespan of these beetles. (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. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

Food Habits

Larvae perch at the entrance to their burrows and prey on passing insects that happen to pass by. When waiting for prey, their heads block the burrow entrance and are usually colored to match the surrounding substrate. Their 5th abdominal segment has an expanded portion with hooks in it to help them hold their position in the burrow. It also makes it difficult to pull larvae out of their burrows. When prey is detected, they pop out of the burrow and grab the prey with their large, curving jaws. They take the prey to the bottom of the burrow to eat them. (Dillon and Dillon, 1961; Leonard and Bell, 1999)

Adults use vision to detect and chase after insect prey. They grab them with their large jaws and chew them in the mouth. They use a strong digestive enzyme in the mouth and then swallow the resultant nutrient solution, spitting out the indigestible parts of their prey. The digestive enzyme is so strong that it can eat holes in the bug nets used to capture these beetles. Adults seem to prefer ant prey but will take any small arthropod. (Leonard and Bell, 1999)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods


Tiger beetles in general are thought to use their coloration to help camouflage them from predators in their preferred habitats. If detected, they are capable of brief, short flights and can run rapidly. 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. They 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. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Festive tiger beetles co-occur throughout much of their range with big sand tiger beetles (Cicindela formosa). (Pearson, et al., 2006)

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. Approximately 7% of festive tiger beetle larvae are attacked by parasitoid bee-flies. Mites also parasitize tiger beetles. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson, et al., 2006)

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

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Festive tiger beetles are interesting and attractive members of sandy habitat faunas throughout much of eastern North America.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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

Conservation Status

Festive tiger beetles are not listed as threatened or endangered currently. Populations are threatened by habitat modifications that destroy or disturb sandy habitats, but their habitat requirements are less stringent than some other species of tiger beetle which are reliant on undisturbed habitats. (Leonard and Bell, 1999; Pearson and Vogler, 2001; Pearson, et al., 2006)

Other Comments

Cicindela scutellaris and Cicindela nigrior (autumn tiger beetles) were once thought to make up a distinct subgenus Pachydela, however, molecular analysis suggests that both species are in the temperate tiger beetle group (Cicindela). Cicindela nigrior was also previously considered a subspecies of C. scutellaris and they are remarkably similar in many morphological and ecological features. However, Cicindela nigrior males have a black labrum with two white spots and their seasonal activity patterns differ. Cicindela scutellaris is active in spring and fall, whereas Cicindela nigrior is active only in the fall. It has been suggested that these two species are in the process of species divergence in sympatry. (Pearson and Vogler, 2001; 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


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.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

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


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


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.


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.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


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.