Rare animals are not typically what one may think of when they imagine Nebraska wildlife, but did you know that Nebraska is home to one of the rarest invertebrates in the entire world?
It’s true! The Salt Creek Tiger Beetle is found in only a handful of saline streams, resulting in one of the smallest niches in the animal kingdom. The Salt Creek Tiger Beetle is a carnivorous beetle, measuring about a half inch in total length, and has around a two-year life cycle. Like other beetles, the Salt Creek Tiger Beetle has four stages in its life cycle.
1. Egg – the Salt Creek Tiger Beetle eggs are laid in moist salty soil in burrows alongside the edge of the streams within the beetle’s habitat. These burrows protect the eggs from outside conditions, including the extreme variations in temperature that Nebraska is known for.
2. Larvae – after hatching, the Salt Creek Tiger Beetle spends up to two years in the progressive larvae stage after repositioning into an adjacent side chamber to the burrow they were hatched in. During this stage, they function as ambush predators, eating any insect they can manage to drag into their burrow, which due to their not yet fully grown size, tend to be on the smaller end. Through this feeding, they gain their strength and size eventually beginning their…
3. Pupae – the pupae stage is an interesting yet short-lived developmental period where the larvae go into a sessile stage, or nonmoving. Their soft malleable bodies are reforming into a tough exoskeleton, not unlike the metamorphosis caterpillars undergo before turning into butterflies.
4. Adult – out of the pupae stage the Salt Creek Tiger Beetles emerges as an adult for a glorious six weeks of feeding and mating. The Salt Creek Tiger Beetle typically spends its adult life preying on spiders, and other ground-based invertebrates that it can catch with its powerful mandibles. When they aren’t feeding, the Salt Creek Tiger Beetles are looking for a mate (usually just one) and will lay their eggs individually in moist burrows. Completing their life cycle!
As intriguing and seemingly impressive as that life cycle is, as a carnivorous insect, their environment can only support a limited number of beetles due to energy loss between each trophic level. That combined with extreme habitat loss has resulted in only 100-1000 adult individuals remaining in the wild. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, and the Lincoln Children’s Zoo have put a concentrated effort into conserving the beetles. If you would like to read more about the specific conservation plan to save this beetle, you can find it here.
Environmental degradation of Nebraska’s once plentiful saline creeks has resulted in less than 15 acres of habitable environment for the Salt Creek Tiger Beetle. The beetle’s unique adaptations allow it to survive in saline environments that other beetles and insects would struggle to stay alive in, giving it an incredibly well-adapted environmental niche. Thankfully, efforts are now being made by organizations, like the Eastern Saline Wetlands partnership, to buy up remaining saline creeks and dedicate them to preservation.
If you are interested in learning more about the Salt Creek Tiger Beetle or other endangered Nebraska species, you can check out this amazing website by Nebraska Game and Parks Service
AmeriCorps Conservation Director
You can contact Nate at firstname.lastname@example.org
Baldridge, Alyssa. “Salt Creek Tiger Beetle.” Nebraska Game and Parks, 14 Dec. 2018, http://outdoornebraska.gov/saltcreektigerbeetle/.
Hardin, Alicia. Mike Fritz Natural Heritage Zoologist Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
“Salt Creek Tiger Beetle.” Wikipedia, 13 Oct. 2022. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Salt_Creek_tiger_beetle&oldid=1115814362.
Salt Creek Tiger Beetles: Science on the SPOT – QUEST Nebraska. Directed by KQED, 2011. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RX9cy8JS9I4.