Hunting Tigers

One of the ‘bee banks’ we cleared in the beginning of 2011, on a sunny slope of heath at Barr Beacon Local Nature Reserve.

Early in 2011, I spent a couple of hours with our estates team on one of the south facing heath banks at Barr Beacon, putting in place three patches of clear ground.  The aim was to create suitable nesting habitat for solitary bees.  We had recenty been on a staff trip to Highgate Common, a Staffordshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve which has received the designation of ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ – SSSI, for its diverse assemblage of aculeate hymenoptera (that’s bees, wasps and ants to you and me!).  One of the management practices to which Highgate Common undoubtedly owes its great species diversity is the creation and maintenance of what they call ‘Bee Beaches’.  Areas within the heathland are stripped of vegetation, and are left open for ground-nesting bees and wasps. 

I’m pretty familiar with Highgate, as I live in Wolverhampton, and its a stone’s throw out of town (on that strange bit of Staffordshire that wiggles down into the West Midlands!), and I was very keen that the other rangers got to see the fab work they do there for bees!

The bee banks face south, overlooking Birmingham.

We left Highgate feeling inspired and determined to put into practice similar techniques at some of our sites.  The sand bunkers at the former Grange Golf Course  (our newest Walsall Countryside Site where we are doing BioBlitz activities throughout the summer!) are being left as ‘Bee Bunkers’, and weeded when necessary to leave open ground.   

The heathland areas at Barr Beacon which I felt were most in need of a bit of TLC are the south-facing banks which overlook Birmingham.  They already had some heavily vegetated ridges, which I thought were perfect for siting some trial ‘bee banks’. 

Green Tiger Beetle on one of the Bee Banks!

Yesterday I went back to check on their success, and to see if I could see any bee or wasp activity.  I will report on the bees in a later blog, but the most exciting (and completely unexpected) thing was that I recorded Green Tiger Beetles using the bare earth in front of the bee banks!  I nearly jumped up and down (might have actually squeaked with excitement “squeeee!”), as this is the first time I have heard of the species in Walsall.  Upon checking later, it is only the second record for the Borough, with the first being 11 years ago at Brownhills Common.  I had to go back to the office to grab my bug pots and camera, and returned to find them again an hour later.

Green Tiger Beetles (also known as Field Tiger Beetle or Common Tiger Beetle) is one of five tiger beetles in the UK (the others being Heath (also called Wood), Dune, Cliff and Northern Dune tiger beetles.  There are estimates of up to 2,300 species in this large genus of ground beetles, which are usually large, metallic and with large eyes and mandibles.

As larvae, they are accomplished ambush predators, lying in wait in their burrows with their heads flush with the ground, ready to pounce when unsuspecting tasty meals walk past!

Green Tiger Beetles are unmistakeable!

 As adults, they are voracious predators, equipped with extremely large, sickle-shaped jaws, and an incredible talent for speed!  The fastest tiger beetles have been clocked at 6mph!  (This, according to wikipedia, is the equivalent of a human running at 480mph!)  They are also extremely fast and agile on the wing, making them very difficult to catch in a net!!

Undaunted by their tricksyness, I managed to catch one to photograph it!  I even did a little video for you!  Hope you enjoy it, I’ll keep you posted with beetle updates!

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