Great NebraskaNaturalists and Scientists
Frank H. Shoemaker
“Tiger” Hunting in the Jungles of the United States
Thinking of hunting tigers without the necessity of drawing all one’s savings from the bank or taking six months away from the office. It can be done for there are tigers prowling about most any place one roams or any time one has a half day off. The fact that these tigers are rather small is offset by the great number of them to be captured, there being 149 varieties. All of these claim the beautiful family name of Cicindelidae, tiger beetles, or tigers for short. They are just as hard to get – pound for pound – and just as beautiful when caught, as any tiger that creeps through African jungles. The group is divided into four genera each with an equally beautiful name. Three genera are composed of only a few species each but the fourth claims 128 species of varieties under the name Cicendela.
One can hardly walk along a country road, cross a pasture, or roam though a bit of woodland without discovering two or three kinds of tigers. They have a decided preference as to where they like to live. Those that live so happily on the sunny salt flats with its moist under layer, don’t care for spots that are high and dry. Some kinds love the cool, moist gullies or a shady spot in the woods where only stray shafts of sunlight filter through. Some choose a narrow strip along the river edge. Another species dwell farther inland where there is less moisture. There may even be a third variety before reaching the dry banks and cliffs, set well back from the beach, where one is very apt to find the most beautiful of all tigers, Cicindela splendida. No other name would describe this variety for they resemble nothing less than rubies and emeralds. There are two species, one having bronze wings and green thoraxes, the other red wings and blue thoraxes. There is hardly a time when one may not find C. splendida. Even when snow is on the ground a little warm sunshine will call them out of their holes to warm themselves on a bit of a bare ground. Most tiger beetles are little worshipers of the sun, hiding under bits of dirt, stray chips, or amongst the grasses when the day is cloudy or cold. But as the sun makes itself felt the tigers become increasingly active. Stiff and easily captured in the chill morning, they are difficult game by noon.
Although he prefers hard garden paths and well-pounded dirt roads, yet there is one tiger who often plunks down before us on the paved streets of the city. He is dark, but not the shiny black we usually associate with beetles. His official title is Cicendela punctulata and after seeing his truly tiger striped cousins one readily associates the long legs and the build of his body. If tiger means stripes he won’t do, if it means predaceous he will qualify. Tiger beetles are ever hungry. They stalk any moving thing that is smaller than themselves. We call this one Mr. Punk for short and gives out a fragrance much like the scent of apple blossoms. Only one other member of the tiger beetle family emits a fragrance, an odor of musk. His name is Cicendela sexgutata and he wears a wonderful emerald jacket that has six white or creamy dots upon it. He doesn’t like the haunts of Mr. Punk but prefers a deep gully along a wooded road where it is moist and cool, and where his brilliant jacket doesn’t attract too much attention.
A mile out of our town is a salt lake and its vicinity offers a hunting ground for several kinds of beetles. The surrounding territory has many little salt springs, feeding threadlike rivulets, flowing where good-sized creeks make their beds in rainy seasons. In mid-summer the sun drys up the excess moisture leaving the ground moist and spongy with a harder surface, white with alkali. Sensible flat heels are a necessity here or one quickly sinks through the thin crust into the mire. I never scramble down the bank onto these flats but it strikes me afresh how the ground seems to rise
up and walk away. Of course, the illusion is die to the great number of beetles scurrying away from my vicinity. Their beautifully marked wings gleam red, green, blue, bronze, or black in the sunlight. Their bodies, are perched high on such long strong legs that they move unbelievably fast. They are very wary and rise in the air at the least alarm. They take flight, alight, and fly again in quick succession. It is hard to keep an eye on them and follow them from place to place, so rapidly do they move.
It is not through their sense of hearing that they detect danger, but by means of a wonderful vision, though they do sense vibration to a certain extent. Let anything small come along and it is their prey. Let a shadow fall over them and away they go. In hunting them it is best to have the sun in front or overhead so thus running away from shadows.
Without a net on a long pole it is almost useless to go tiger hunting. The pole is held well out in front so the net at the end is ready for instant use. A tiger is picked out and stalked, very gingerly, for he may sense danger any moment, and when he does, he scoots! At the opportune moment the net is swung and as quickly flipped over so there is no escape, if he’s really there. Hunting tigers is fine exercise for lungs and legs. Red cheeks and perhaps a sunburned nose are in the day’s rewards.
The tiger invariably clamps his jaws around a threat in the meshed net. He doesn’t intend to ever let go and if roughly handled will be a tiger in two pieces. It does show his curved mandibles or jaws to advantage. He is fond of testing his grip on one’s finger tip. It doesn’t really hurt but gives a definite idea of his strength. When he is loose he should be held by his two hind legs for inspection. This is the way to hold a beetle just as the proper way to hold a kitten is by the back of its neck or a rabbit by its two big ears. His wonderful covering can now be carefully examined. Beautiful green underneath, with some soft white hairs on some species, a bronze thorax, iridescent red on their striped wings that is what we see for C. repanda….
Sometimes one can drop over an unwary fellow as he sits in the sunshine, but beware! If the net does not touch every bit of its rim to the ground there’ll be no beetle where when you begin to look, and one has to look quick at that. Imprison him between finger and thumb in a fold of the net. If there is no hole for him to spy he is hustling around one may turn the net over and remove one, or two at the most, but with plain American tigers we can carry several hundred and never note the additional burden.
Running back and forth over the flats one wonders if their eyes have gone crazy for the ground seems to pop full of holes like a sieve. These holes are homes of the tiger beetle babies, funny little things not resembling their long legged parents in the least. When this baby is born he is very, very tiny and looks like a little grub. Small as he is he immediately sets to work and soon digs for himself an equally tiny hole in which he makes himself at home. As he grows bigger and bigger he enlarges the hole both in depth and diameter so that is always a perfect fit. There are hundreds of these little holes in every direction. A tiger baby’s head, which is very large in proportion to his body and as flat as a bit of planed wood, exactly fills the entrance to the hole. The hungry jaws are even with the surface. He could not hold himself in this position were it not for his strong legs, two of which are attached to the thorax, and two to each of the first two segments of the abdomen. These he sticks into the rounded well on either side. He sits there patiently until a small bug comes across the hole when snap! go the jaws and the baby drops back into his hole to enjoy the feast. Should a big object with correspondingly large shadow come along as the baby waits there, pop goes the flat little head into the hole and there is nothing to be seen but a dark polka dot. The explains why the ground grows full of puncture at times. Sometimes an unsuspecting bug comes close but not directly over the guarded hole. As if on an elastic band tiger baby’s head stretches out and yanks him in. A quarter of an inch he can reach and his head seems able to turn almost completely around. If he can not get his victim into his fortress tiger baby is satisfied to eat his fill from what covers the hole and then the rest may blow away. Should something get hold of this little glutton and try to drag him out of his hole he sticks his feet firmly into his dirt fortress and also puts into service two hooks on the back of the seventh abdominal section, designed for this very purpose. A slender grass stem dropped down one of the apparently empty holes soon begins to wiggle waggle or go up and down until with a push it may come entirely out. By carefully lifting the weed the baby may sometimes be dragged out, twisting and squirming in the sunlight. His legs are not meant for walking and he can only writhe along. He is the color of old ivory and iridescent to a remarkable degree, punks, blues, violets, and delicate green tones play along his sides. He doesn’t like the sunlight on his body. Cutting down into these holes show them to be from half an inch to six or eight inches deep. Now if there is not an empty or discarded hole to stick this baby into he will die before he gets a big enough hole dug for himself. It is rather difficult to back him down into one these yawning caverns. It seems funny to think that in the course of time he will change into a handsome long-legged fellow like dad.
There are two members of this group that differ immensely inasmuch as they never fly. Very small and slender they look more like a winged ant. They love the hot, dry hillsides where the grass is rather scanty. They are called C. celeripes and C. cursitans though so similar in habits are seldom found in the same territory.
Some forms of tigers come out towards evening and prowl in the dusk in search of prey. These are known as crepuscular but they are not so numerous in varieties.
There is hardly a territory in which some of these tigers are not present. One can never find a place where all of them are represented, but one may find a small strip where perhaps two or three kinds are gathered together and perhaps through many states these three kinds are sought in vain by collectors.