Posted by: scrubmuncher | September 5, 2012

A tiger beetle on steroids

Tiger beetles come in all shapes and sizes, but on the whole they’re rather elegant, fine-limbed animals. With this said, some of their number are real brutes and perhaps the most brutish of all are the African Manticora species (for a sense of scale here’s one behaving nicely on someone’s hand).

Massive and completely black, they scuttle around in the dead of night chomping any suitably sized animals that venture within range of their enormous mandibles. Unlike most their kind they’re completely flightless and relatively cumbersome. The fine specimen in the photo below was found at a campsite we stayed at in Namibia at the end of 2011. It was lurking under the low vegetation growing around a lamp-post, idly waiting for other insects drawn by the light to lose their bearings and fall to the ground.

Getting close enough to most tiger beetles to take decent photos is a bit like herding cats because they’re just so fast and skittish. However, these beefcakes of the tiger beetle world are much more relaxed and this one happily made a small snack of several flying termites while I had my camera in its personal space. After growing weary of the flash the beetle scuttled off like a wind-up toy. The next challenge is to find the fully-grown Manticora larva. It would look a bit like this, only much much bigger.

If you want to find out more about these splendid insects then this paper is packed with information. There are even some photos of the formidable larvae, their tunnels and their parasitoids.

The African Manticora spp. are the biggest and meanest looking of all the tiger beetles. Thirteen Manticora spp. are currently known from throughout sub-Saharan Africa (Ross Piper).

Here’s the same specimen unceremoniously dispatching a winged termite (Ross Piper).


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