Missouri Tigers

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

Unaware of danger, a small animal sips from the water's edge on a scorching summer day. Suddenly a tiger bursts from its lair. Its powerful jaws with jagged teeth clamp down tightly on the animal, bringing a quick death. It's a scene that has played out countless times around the watering holes of Missouri.

Ferocious tigers in Missouri? The thought of it is enough to give you goose bumps. Missouri's tigers, however are not large felines but small beetles. Tiger beetles may not be imposing to us, but to a shore fly, these marauders of the insect world are every bit as scary as a Bengal tiger.

Tiger beetles encompass a distinctive and fascinating group of Missouri insects. Nationwide, there are 147 species of tiger beetles, 21 of which live in Missouri. Many species have striking metallic colors and markings. Observers see them most frequently in sandy, disturbed habitats like sandbars or erosion cuts, but they also live along muddy banks, on glades and in forest litter. Some species are common and widespread throughout Missouri, while others are rare and localized. Tiger beetles usually group in open habitats with little vegetation, making it easy to observe their behavior.

Their combination of beauty, variety and high visibility makes tiger beetles a popular group to study. Only butterflies, dragonflies and a few of the larger groups of beetles, such as scarab beetles and wood-boring beetles, rival their popularity. Tiger beetles often run fast and fly strong, which makes them challenging to collect or photograph. Because tiger beetles are often restricted to specific natural communities, they make excellent subjects for ecological studies. Learning about them also is an enjoyable way to spend time outdoors.


Tiger beetles are members of the vast insect order Coleoptera, which is the largest order in the animal kingdom. At least 40 percent of all described animal species are beetles, and most of the remainder are other types of insects.

Tiger beetles belong to the family Cicindelidae and are closely related to the ground beetles, which belong to the Carabidae family. The tiger beetles' distinguishing characteristics include a cylindrical body; long, thin legs; prominent head with large, bulging eyes; and large, sickle-shaped jaws with sharp teeth. Some ground beetles look similar to tiger beetles, but tiger beetles are distinguished by the location of the antennae-toward the front of the head below the inside margins of the eyes. The antennae of ground beetles are below the

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