Northern Dune Tiger Beetles – Natural Kingdom: Wild Walls

By Monica Kaur Bhatia and Bred Beckett

Natural Kingdom: Wild Walls are a series of wildlife and nature murals in cities and towns across the UK. These murals represent our collective concern about the loss of wildlife and climate change in the UK, and internationally. Working with communities, young people, partners, and artists up and down the country we will be highlighting the importance of nature, especially for fighting climate change. The murals will be created between now and the end of September and will be accompanied by lots of political and community activity in the run up to COP26 . 

Find me here: Grafton Street, Toxteth, Liverpool L8 5XJ

A little introduction 

Small and subtle, the northern dune tiger beetle is a hidden gem when it comes to the UK’s ecological build up. These invertebrates are full of surprises and go about their lives in such an exciting way, so I thought what better way to get to know these little legends than by spending a day with these incredible tiger beetles! 

Some background

For a little bit of background, northern dune tiger beetles definitely hold some cool titles on the UK wildlife scene; they are actually quite rare found in only a few places across the west coast, and exert so many beautiful intricacies, whether it’s their bright red wings, or their hidden iridescent green underside – do you see what I mean about them quite literally being hidden beauties? Along with these physical features, the beetles hold some serious skills for an insect only 2cm in length – they are thought to be one of the fastest beetles in the whole world, rocketing at speeds of 2.5 metres/second!

To put these nifty skills such as super-speed to good use however, it is fundamental that these insects are given the habitat they need to thrive – they are fussy little things, and so the temperature, along with hiding places, egg laying spots, and hunting areas of these habitats need to be just right! So, where on earth will we get all of the right conditions for these insects? The answer is sand dunes! Sand dunes aren’t just your average sandy beaches either. They have been intricately shaped by natural wonders such as the wind and water to form specific mounded shapes, and without these dunes perfectly managing the conditions for these beetles to go about their daily life, they simply wouldn’t be able to thrive in abundance.

Photo by Chantal on Unsplash

Now that we know a little more about these beetles and where they live, let us get right into how they utilise these superb skills and habitats in their daily life.

Morning time!

The day starts on the barely vegetated, sparse sand dunes of Sefton, Merseyside and Cumbria in the north west of England. For such speedy sprinters, the first call to action for these insects is surprisingly relaxing – they sunbathe! That’s right, they get to start out the day how every human wishes they could; laying on rocks, grass and the ground, basking in the sun rays. Why do they do this? Just to simply get warm – I think we all know that given how chilly it gets each night up north that these little creatures need to warm up before leaping into their active day.

Photo by p j on Unsplash

Where do they hang out for the rest of the day?

While they like to have a stretch in the sun in the mornings, they can’t laze about all day – this is the fastest beetle in the world we’re talking about, and they have so much to do! These tiger beetles spend a lot of time in their larval form before metamorphosing into adults. In this stage, they nuzzle in sand burrows – these are just holes within the sand – and while sitting down for most of their lives doesn’t make it seem like these beetles are very busy, this is the stage where they must always be on the lookout, as things are about to get interesting. 

Photo by Anthony Choren on Unsplash

Time to eat!

The way in which nutrients are obtained to sustain an active lifestyle – in the same way as humans – is through diet. Northern dune tiger beetles love to dig into a range of treats, and due to its immense hunting skills, it has its pick of the bunch; they like to eat anything from ants and spiders to moths and flies. So how does this link to the larval position we spoke about; these beetles will sit in their holes, keeping a close eye on what’s happening at the surface of the sand, pouncing on these prey as they move past the burrow. In regards to the moths and flies, the beetle is adept in flight too, and fast at that!

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

They must be exhausted!

After this long day of hunting, sprinting, and flying, it is safe to say that these beetles need a good night’s sleep in order to do this all again in the morning. Using these same burrows, they dig into them even deeper in the night – up to 20cm, and rest here until the sun rises. These nifty holes are also where any eggs are laid and shielded in the winter time until they are ready to crop up in summer.

Photo by Basil Samuel Lade on Unsplash

This routine is unfortunately at risk

Do you remember how before we got stuck into the day, we discussed how sand dunes must be surplus and well maintained in order to sustain the exciting lifestyle of the northern dune tiger beetle? This, sadly, isn’t the case right now. While invasive species such as Rosa rugosa (a non-native species of rose originated in Eastern Asia, introduced to the UK as an ornamental species) are being maintained to limit the rate of which the land reclaims the sand dunes, human activities such as the creation of seaside attractions, holiday paths and homes, along with the natural process of dune degradation (through erosion and transport as a result of high velocity wind) means that this already rare species is at even greater risk due to displacement. 

Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

How are we helping, and how you can too.

Northern Dune Tiger Beetles and Sand Dunes are at risk in our changing climate and through changes in land use. To help, you can: 

  • Visit the mural, take a picture, draw it, post it online and celebrate its beauty! 
  • Get in touch with your local MP or councillor, write them a letter, and tell them why protecting and restoring nature is so important! We can help you get started here 
  • Support organisations like Buglife and Dynamic Dunescapes – get in touch with them, tell them about the mural, why you care, and let’s fight together! 
  • Learn more about our friend the Northern Dune Tiger Beetle here.
  • Paint/Draw/Write about your own experiences with the species and @ukyouth4nature on socials

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