Tiger beetle – imaginary vs real

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Mythical vs real tiger beetle

Why the real tiger beetle is a most fearsome and incredible beast

The tiger beetle is one of the fastest runners of the insect world. One species can reach 5.6 miles (9 kilometres) per hour, which is like a human running at 480 miles (770 kilometres) per hour. (Look out, caterpillars, ants, grasshoppers and other beetles!)

Tiger beetles are tough enough to live everywhere in the world except for the Antarctic and Tasmania, although most species like hot, sunny weather.

The compound eyes are huge and bulgy, providing clear all-round vision for hunting.

The powerful jaws (mandibles) of the tiger beetle are like two curved swords with pointed blades. They can hold, cut and crush their victims.

The grub-like larva can burrow tunnels with its mandibles. It hides in its burrow waiting to strike when prey comes near. It flips its super-scary armoured head back and grabs the prey with its deadly jaws.

Why our mythical tiger beetle doesn’t exist

Normal tiger eyes wouldn’t be as good as compound beetle eyes at seeing prey scuttling past from different directions.

An insect body can’t grow big enough to support a real tiger head. This is because insect bodies don’t contain lungs and have to rely on tubes called trachea. These need a massive amount of oxygen in the air to support a larger body.

Although our most common UK tiger beetle is green (with spots on its wing cases), its bright, metallic colour is not as good as a tiger’s stripes when it comes to hiding amongst tall grasses to stalk prey. Its legs are not built for pouncing and catching.

Only a sabre-toothed tiger would have teeth that came anywhere near the two curved sword blades of a tiger beetle’s mandibles. The sabre-toothed tiger is thought to have used its front paws to wrestle its victims to the ground and strong neck muscles helped the long teeth plunge into flesh.

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