The monster tiger beetle: a “voracious killing machine”

Nature photographer Piotr Naskrecki, whom we’ve met before, is in Mozambique and, at his website The Smaller Majority, is documenting his adventures. Several days ago he wrote about the larva of the Monster Tiger Beetle (Manticora redux), which led me to his post last month on the adult of the same species. I don’t want to reprise most of what he said about this nasty but amazing piece of work, so go over and read about it yourself.

(Note to pedantic readers and creationists: by “piece of work” I am speaking metaphorically and not implying that there was a creator who designed this beetle! And do I really have to say stuff like this?)

Anyway, here’s the adult nomming a grasshopper: Piotr notes (his words are indented):

It is the world’s largest tiger beetle (Cicindelinae), with a robust, heavily sclerotized body that easily reaches 65 mm in length. Its head, especially that of the male, is equipped with a pair of mandibles that would not look out of place on a stag beetle but, unlike the mostly ritualistic function of large mandibles in stag beetles, those of Maticora are very much functional.

manticora7

A male Manticora with prey [Canon 7D, Canon 100mm macro, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

Despite its size Manticorabehaves in a way quite similar to smaller tiger beetle species. Its movements are agile, and it can run like hell and change direction in a split of a second; they cannot fly, however. These beetles hunt anything that moves, although prefer orthopterans, but unlike other tiger beetles it appears that the sense of smell rather than vision is their main tool for locating their victims. Once prey is located the beetle clasps it with its enormous mandibles and literally chops it to pieces. I watched it find and kill a large wolf spider – at first I thought that the spider would put up a fight, but about two seconds later what was left of the spider was a nicely masticated ball of tissue and a small pile of legs. After the main body was consumed the beetle picked the legs, one by one, off the ground and ate them, too.

Apparently the mandibles do double duty (see Piotr’s caption):

manticora3-1

The mandibles of a male Manticora latipennis are truly impressive. In addition to catching and killing prey, males use them hold and guard a female during copulation. [Canon 6D, Canon 16-35mm + an extender, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

The larvae are just as nasty:

The larvae of Manticora are similarly carnivorous, but rather than actively pursuing their prey the way their parents do, they are sit-and-wait predators. At that time I had not been able to see or collect Manticora larvae, but tonight I finally managed to snag one.

Like other tiger beetles, the larvae of Manticora hunt from the safety of their narrow, nearly vertical burrows in the sand. Their soft body is safely tucked inside the tunnel, and the only thing that is visible on the surface is a large, heavily sclerotized head and pronotum, both of which form a shield that blocks the access to the burrow. The mandibles of a Manticora larva are pointing upwards so that any insect unlucky enough to step on the head is instantly grabbed by its leg and pulled underground. Imagine walking down the street and stepping on one of those round metal plates that cover sewer manholes, only the plate turns out to be the head of monster, and you are instantly sucked underground – this is what it must feel to a cricket or an antlion as it is being dragged by Manticora.

larva

When Piotr tried to extract one of these from its burrow, he had a tough time, and thereby discovered a cool adaptation:

Eventually, I used the insect’s own voracity to catch it – I gently touched the head with the forceps, and when the mandibles snapped around it I grabbed the head and pulled the larva out. It was not easy as the 5th abdominal tergite of the larva is modified into a large, spiny structure that effectively anchors the animal in its burrow. The larva’s morphology reminded me of marine polychaete worms that use a similar tactic for catching prey from the confines of their burrows.

larva4

An unlucky cricket is seized by its leg and dragged underground to its doom:

larva_cricket

h/t: Matthew Cobb

32 Comments

  1. Kevin Alexander
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks Jerry, now I won’t be able to sleep tonight.

  2. BilBy
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    My favourite beetle – we used to catch them in northern S. Africa. I remember hearing a terrible clattering from a container in which we had put two and looked in to see a rather rough romantic encounter going on: the male’s jaws fit very neatly around the female and he was lifting her up and throwing her down preparatory to mating. We fed them on toktokkie beetles which they could scissor up very rapidly with a crunching sound like someone eating cornflakes. After a while they would ‘tame’ and cock their heads when we lifted the lids to feed them.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      If I had grown up where these beetles lived, I definitely would have wanted to have one as a pet.

      • BilBy
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        Even better were the ‘oogpisters’ or ‘eye pissers’ – which are large, colourful carabids that squirt formic (?) acid. They become very tame, stop squirting defensively and can be fed mealworms by hand. Happy days.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

          Sounds like fun! I had only crickets and toads 🙂

  3. BilBy
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    By the way; this: “Its head, especially that of the male, is equipped with a pair of mandibles that would not look out of place on a stag beetle but, unlike the mostly ritualistic function of large mandibles in stag beetles, those of Maticora are very much functional” – this is a study waiting to be done on Manticora: the interaction between a naturally selected function(jaws to eat crunchy prey) and a sexually-selected function (grasping and holding females).

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Not just Manticora; most or perhaps all cicindelids grasp females with their mandibles during mating… and probably the smaller species abundant near U.S. universities would be more tractable for research, if somewhat less impressive or likely to remove a finger. 🙂

  4. Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    I do believe this beetle is available for adoption, should anybody have a soft spot for it.

    Cheers,

    b&

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    When I read that the beetle voraciously ate up most of the wolf spider, I decided that I really like this beetle. Wolf spiders really scare me & I’ve encountered a couple of them in the wild.

    I wonder if the beetle is named after this strange Persian sphinx like guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manticore

    • Marcoli
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      By far the worst spider bite I had was from this wolf spider, when I was about 14 WolfSpider. It was a big ‘un. After that I never picked up a large one again.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        Yuck! Once as a kid I was looking for snakes by flipping stuff over in a field. There was an old abandoned car in the field and I flipped over one of the floor mats that was laying out in the grass. A giant wolf spider came running out – boy did I ever run back fast! I never looked for snake that way again!

        Another time, there was a huge massive one in an old shed where someone was storing onions. It was so huge, you could hear it rustling around. Ahhhhhhh!

        • Marcoli
          Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

          They can be big. Even bigger are their relatives the ‘nursery spiders’, which look like wolf spiders. Found near streams. This one is mislabeled as a wolf spider, but it is a nursery spider b/c of the way it carries its egg sac. NurserySpider

  6. Marcoli
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    I have always had a soft spot for tiger beetles. Their larvae here are also similar to the one shown above. I have never seen a larva catch anything, but in the descriptions I read they do not necessarily wait for their head to be stepped on. Instead, when an insect gets close enough it suddenly flips its head and fore-body backward out of its burrow to grab it. So now the man-hole cover comes out after you.
    I am glad to be over 6′ tall.

  7. LilburnLowellDecker
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Another example of Not-So-Intelligent-Design. How anyone can observe this and other creatures which can only exist by consuming other forms of life—often in a horrible manner—and believe all life on earth is the creation of an intelligent designer defies all logical explanation. To then claim that the IDer is also a benovelent being is insance

    • Marcoli
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      The Designer could be insane, cruel, or both. I am of course being ironic, as I am confident that natural selection is the only designer of life.

    • microraptor
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      You really want to see a Creationist’s head explode, give them a crash course in Parasitology watch while they try to reconcile it with a loving god.

      • lkr
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        Guinea worm
        word….

  8. John
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    No, you don’t have to say that. If you did a disclaimer for everything you said that crosses the ID/creationist freak out line, we would miss a lot of the really neat stuff you post.

  9. cherrybombsim
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I don’t object at all when someone uses a colorful metaphor correctly. It’s only when I hear something like “a tough road to hoe” that my intestines get knotted up and I have to go see the doctor.

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      “a tough road to hoe”

      I pictured a streetwalker in the low rent district.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        ROTFL!

    • Posted June 2, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Indeed, I think it might be time to simply grasp these bulls by their horns and go ahead and unapologetically use the colorful religiously-themed terms.

      After all, nobody here has a problem with saying, “goodbye,” even though it’s an archaic contraction of “May God be with ye.” So why hesitate to use “creature” or “critter” to describe an organism, or to anthropomorphize Darwinian evolution?

      If and when somebody objects, a quick and minor scolding that, of course this is colorful metaphor, should be all that’s needed to quiet the soulless illiterate cretin.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

        +1

        I’ve given up on trying to be atheist-pc. I now just say e.g. ‘Thank god for that’. (I used to to say ‘Thank f*** for that’ which didn’t really make sense and couldn’t be used in company anyway. My parents would say ‘Thank goodness for that’ which I think was a sort of euphemism more directed at not taking the Lord’s name in vain than avoiding religiosity.

        And ‘God knows!’ means, of course, nobody knows. As everybody knows perfectly well.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      Whatever you do, don’t Google ‘eggcorn’ looking for other examples like that. If you won’t tow the line here, you will find yourself with a Möbius strip for intestines. That wouldn’t end well.

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    (Note to pedantic readers and creationists: by “piece of work” I am speaking metaphorically and not implying that there was a creator who designed this beetle! And do I really have to say stuff like this?)

    I accept your idiomatic expression but I can see you’re still suffering from the peevishness of previous pedants 🙂

  11. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Imagine walking down the street and stepping on one of those round metal plates that cover sewer manholes, only the plate turns out to be the head of monster, and you are instantly sucked underground – this is what it must feel to a cricket or an antlion as it is being dragged by Manticora.

    This rather begs the question of how many genuine manhole covers crickets and antlions are likely to step on in their daily travels.

    Be that as it may, savvy urbanites in wet climates know not to step on manhole covers anyway, since they can become quite slippery in the rain.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      In really wet climates certain low-lying manhole covers are liable to rise into the air propelled by a fountain of muddy* water. An even better reason for avoiding them.

      *Euphemism.

  12. Greg Esres
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    So what effect would these mandibles have on a finger? Hurt like hell or lop it off?

    • BilBy
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Just hurt like hell, they’re not that bad. Manticora is also famous for being on the cover of a Massive Attack album – Mezzanine.

  13. Vaal
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Jesus!

    Vaal

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      I see you’ve been following the discussion about the permissibleness* of religious metaphors 😉

      (* I think i just made that word up. Permissibility? I’ll let the pedants argue. Oddly enough the spellchecker didn’t even twitch).

  14. ppnl
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    As a kid I spent hours catching Manticora larvae. You just drop a straw in the hole and wait. Eventually it starts to move. When you think it has a good hold you briskly jerk the straw out. Likely the larvae will jerk out with it. It did not seem to do them any harm.

    I called them doodlebugs although for most people this referred to pill bugs.

    Ant lions were my next favorite item. I did not catch them so much as feed them ants. It did seem to harm the ants.


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  1. […] Over at Why Evolution is True – a nice report on a voracious tiger beetle. […]

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