Franklin County’s amazing diversity of wildlife and other natural resources conveniently sets the stage for an enjoyable outing for even the most casual of outdoor enthusiasts. However, for those nature explorers willing to adjust their focus to a slightly finer grain, there is a whole new world of drama provided by the smaller creatures with interesting behaviors and lifestyles that mostly go unnoticed. Unnoticed, unless you are one of those people your family and friends wonder about in a way that borders on concern.
Here’s how you know if you are one of those “special” people who, shall we say, notice things. If you’ve ever heard the following phrases from outdoor companions, you likely fit the description of what we’ll call a “keen observer”:
“Honey, those people are staring at us,” or “I’ll be in the car” or “Did you lose something?” or often, “Are you alright?”…when you are Perfectly Fine in your estimation. You are just enjoying a look into a dimension that others are generally too busy to notice.
If you are usually the one saying the phrases listed above, many readers know your pain. It can be exasperating, even unnerving being baked in the sun, eaten alive by sand gnats, or the object of other people’s uncomfortable stares. Take heart, there is a sure way to cure your misery if you are somehow linked with an outdoor companion who is a keen observer.
All you have to do is will yourself to join in on the keen observer’s session just one time. From then on, you will be hooked and totally oblivious to bugs, heat, cold, and rude people who stare (it’s quite liberating). In fact, in many cases, the new initiate to the realm of keen observing is so taken with the sport that he or she surpasses their mentor and will themselves become the annoying partner during outdoor adventures (great payback). Take a chance and open yourself to a whole new world that can include the following local drama.
Very likely, while walking on our coastal shores, you have encountered one of our native tiger beetles and not even known it. It is amazing how fast these half-inch predatory beetles move. Most beetles are slow, but tigers run swiftly on long legs and fly even faster. If you get a look at one before it takes flight, you will notice the classic “beetle” shape and the traditional smooth, hard elytra (wing covers). Tiger beetles on our beaches are very light-colored and hard to see on the sand until they move. Larvae live in burrows on the beach and are voracious predators on small things that wander too close. Adults feed on small organisms that live in the swash zone, including ants and likely amphipods (beach fleas).
Tiger beetles are well-adapted with large jaws for catching and holding prey and as mentioned earlier, they are fast. In the U.S there are about 100 species and they occur in many habitats. They breed in early summer in Florida and larvae likely overwinter as late instars to go through their pupal stage in the spring before emerging to start the cycle again.
The next time you are on the beach, keep your eyes on the sand and you just may catch a glimpse of the scurrying forms of our “tiny tigers” of the beach. If you spend at least 10 minutes trying to get a good look at one… you qualify as a keen observer. Welcome to the club!
For more information on Florida’s tiger beetles, visit tinyurl.com/y6qlmln2
Erik Lovestrand is a UF/IFAS regional Sea Grant agent in Wakulla, Franklin and Gulf counties. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org