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Conserving Puritan tiger beetles in Connecticut
Photo Credit: USFWS
Puritan tiger beetles (Cicindela puritana) are found in only two places in the world: the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the Connecticut River in New England. Historically, there were 11 populations along the Connecticut River, but only two remain. One occurs near Hadley, Massachusetts and the others near Cromwell, Connecticut. Because of dam-building and modifications of the Connecticut River, only a remnant of the once extensive Puritan tiger beetle populations remains there. In New England, Puritan tiger beetle distribution follows the sand and clay deposits formed by glacial lakes during the last ice age.
Tiger beetles are a family of insects that are voracious predators, capturing other invertebrates in a tiger-like manner. The Puritan tiger beetle has declined along the Connecticut River due to inundation and disturbance of its shoreline habitat from dam construction, riverbank stabilization and human recreational activities. This species was federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act throughout its range in 1990.
The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge has long been the driving force in protecting and restoring the embattled beetle population on state- and city-owned property in Massachusetts. It was only natural for them to lead the efforts to help protect and maintain the beetles' other population in Connecticut.
In 2007, the Refuge dramatically expanded its protection for puritan tiger beetles by purchasing a 30-acre (12-hectare) parcel in Cromwell, Connecticut. Most of the parcel, along the mainstem of the Connecticut River is a floodplain forest that also provides important stopover habitat to migrating songbirds. A small part of the parcel is an accreting sand spit, where as many as 600 adult beetles were found in one year.
Staff at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge has managed the Cromwell site for Puritan tiger beetles the last few years, and are working closely with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to help restore the Puritan tiger beetle to throughout Connecticut.
Adult beetles need foraging habitat which consists of open substrate (sand) and sun. The Cromwell site is shaped like a peninsula in the Connecticut River - on the western side. At the tip of the peninsula is a sandy area - this is where the adults forage. Unfortunately, there are some willows and invasive perennial plants that need to be controlled to keep the site open for Puritan tiger beetle habitat. About 4 years ago, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection cut back the vegetation out on the sandy point. They immediately noticed a sharp increase in the number of adults in this area. This year, staff at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge repeated the vegetation control efforts. They hope to see adult numbers increase again this year and for a few years after.
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