Beetlemania: Feds Give $2.4 Million to Protect Insect Habitat

The U.S. Department of Interior announced this week that it is giving $2,426,055 to the state of Maryland to help protect the habitat of the Puritan tiger beetle, a threatened insect that inhabits beaches and bluffs along Chesapeake Bay in Maryland as well as along the Connecticut River in New England.

The $2.4 million grant, which will be paid to the State of Maryland Department of Natural Resources, is one of 48 grants totaling $53.3 million that the Interior Department said on Wednesday will go to 17 states to purchase or conserve land determined to be habitat for species that have been listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

In addition to Maryland's Puritan-tiger-beetle grant, five other grants--equalling a combined $3,376,125--also went to projects intended to protect (among other species) a threatened or endangered species of beetle.

In total, the Department of Interior this week awarded $5,802,180 to state-based projects designed in whole or in part to protect beetles.

--Texas was awarded $1,130,625 for a project aimed at helping the Coffin Cave mold beetle and the Bone Cave harvestman (a spider).

--California won separate grants of $994,500 and $366,000 to develop plans to preserve threatened and endangered species, including the valley elderbery longhorn beetle, in the Sacramento and Sacramento-San Joaquin delta areas.

--California also won $750,000 to help protect the Mount Herman June beetle in Santa Cruz County.

--Nebraska won $135,000 to preserve wetlands used by among other creatures the Salt Creek tiger beetle.

These grants are a result of the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, a program set up by the Endangered Species Act that allows the federal government to pay states to develop plans for protecting listed species and to purchase or conserve lands needed to do so.

States must make a matching commitment of at least 25 percent to receive a grant from the fund.

“These grant awards will support important state efforts to build and strengthen conservation partnerships, and to conserve and protect vital habitat for threatened and endangered animals and plants,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday as he announced the $53.3 million in grants.

Tiger beetles “are day-active, predatory insects that capture small arthropods in a ‘tiger-like’ manner, grasping prey with their mandibles,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (U.S.F.W.S.) said in 1989 in the Federal Register (FR) when it published its proposed rule to list the insect as threatened. (The insect was subsequently designated as threatened in 1990.)

“Over 100 species and many additional subspecies of tiger beetle occur in the United States,” the U.S.F.W.S. said in the FR.

The Puritan tiger beetle, U.S.F.W.S said, “is distinguished from more common, similarly marked tiger beetles by the uneven or minutely broken edges of the middle band.”

Through much of the 20th century, scientists believed the Puritan tiger beetle was merely a subspecies of other types of tiger beetles. “Originally described by G. Horn (1876), C. puritana was later considered a subspecies of Cicindela curpascens (Leng 902, Horn 1930) and a subspecies of Cicindela macra (Vaurie 1951),” U.S.F.W.S. said in 1989. “Most recently, Willis (1967) established separate species status for these three taxa.”

The Puritan tiger beetle infests beaches along Chesapeake Bay in early to mid-summer.

“In Maryland, adults are first seen in mid-June,” said U.S.F.W.S. “Their numbers peak in early July and begin to wane by late July.”

“The newly emerged beetles feed and mate along the beach area,” said U.S.F.W.S. “After mating, females move up on the cliffs to deposit their eggs. Emerging larvae construct burrows in the cliffs.”

The beetle, according to U.S.F.W.S., was threatened by the construction of dams along the Connecticut River in New England and by pollution in the river. Throughout its habitat it was also threatened by human development and the preservation of the otherwise naturally-eroding bluffs that its larvae need for their burrows. “Construction of bulkheads and growth of kudzu or other introduced vegetation on cliffs curtails this erosive process and renders the cliffs unsuitable for larvae,” says U.S.F.W.S.

The beetle also faces non-human threats—including two fellow insects the U.S.F.W.S described as the beetle’s “natural enemies.”

“Adults of the wingless wasp, Methocha, were found at several population sites,” said U.S.F.W.S. “Female Metocha attack and paralyze tiger beetle larvae, so that their own larvae may use the beetle for a food source as it develops.”

The other notable beetle enemy is a creature called the robber fly.

“These predatory flies perch and wait for adult tiger beetles or other flying prey and capture them out of the air,” U.S.F.W.S. said.

The beetle population also has varied widely as a result of variable weather. The beetle experiences “very high larval mortality and dramatic year-to-year variations in abundance and local extinctions, due to factors such as flood tides, hurricanes, winter storms and other natural phenomona,” said U.S.F.W.S. in 1989 when it published its proposed rule.

The $2.4 million grant to the state of Maryland for protecting the Puritan tiger beetle will help establish conservation easements on 456 acres of forestlands and bluffs. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources will carry out the project in partnership with the local office of the U.S.F.W.S, the Eastern Shore Conservancy, the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay Council and five local landowners.

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