By Karen Kefauver
January 10, 2014
Link to Sentinel Article
Mountain bikers, now you can add another resolution to your New Year’s list. For 2014, I hope you strive to bike better, smarter and beware of the beetles at Wilder Ranch State Park and other recreational areas in Santa Cruz.
It’s not that beetles can hurt you; it’s the opposite. They need your help to protect them from you, and the rest of your outdoorsy friends.
I never really thought much about beetles. To me, they were nice little bugs that didn’t bite me or fly in my face and had pretty, iridescent green shells. If I glimpsed them, usually they were scuttling off somewhere. I hadn’t considered that maybe their six-legged hustle was to save their lives from bike tires or hiking boots or was maybe just a mad dash to find a mate.
A researcher surveys a mountain biker riding on a trail through the habitat of the endangered Ohlone Tiger Beetle.
Then I met Tim Duane, professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz, and Tara Cornelisse, who recently completed her Ph.D in environmental studies at UCSC. The two experts were guest speakers at a Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz meeting last July. That evening, I learned just how special these beetles are and how cyclists (and others) can take better precautions to protect them.
For starters, some of the local beetles are called Ohlone Tiger Beetles, or Cicindela Ohlone. You can recognize them by their bright green color with touches of bronze. Typically measuring about half an inch, the beetles can be hard to spot, so be on the lookout for them, especially from January to May, when they are most active.
Endemic to Santa Cruz, OTB (as scientists call them) weren’t discovered until 1987. In 2001, they were registered as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Among the reasons the OTB ended up on the list is that tiger beetles need bare ground to hunt, find mates and lay eggs. That’s the same kind of ground that makes up mountain biking and hiking trails. So, the same paths used by hikers and mountain bikers, including Chinquapin within Wilder Ranch, are used by the beetles in their open space activities. Burrows built by the beetles can be crushed by traffic on these paths, as can the beetles themselves.
According to research conducted by Cornelisse, now doing her post-doctorate studies with the Natural History Museum of New York, there are steps you can take as a cyclist to reduce your impact.
“Read and follow any signs about the beetle, and slow down in any marked beetle areas,” she said. “The beetles will get out of the way if you slow down.”
Duane added that those studying the beetle have tried to come up with catchy slogans that will stick with hikers and bikers when they’re in the beetle’s habitat.
“Maybe the signs should read: “Go slow for the O,” Duane suggested in an email.
With a typical life span of two years, the OTB has to be on the alert for top predators. It can typically escape danger by using quick flights or running, aided by the beetle’s exceptional vision. But it has to see trouble coming.
Signs posted near UC Santa Cruz and Wilder Ranch State Park warn hikers and mountain bikers that they are entering the habitat of the endangered Ohlon Tiger Beetle.
In the bigger scheme of things, why should we care about an endangered beetle? That answer could be an article on its own, but one aspect struck me in particular.
As Cornelisse explained, “The fact that the Ohlone Tiger Beetle is endangered tells us that there is something fundamentally altered in our prairies”…. By using the OTB’s habitat requirements, we can better learn how to restore and maintain our native prairies.”
As you enjoy the beauty and thrill of mountain biking, remember the fate of the Ohlone Tiger Beetle lies in our hands, and specifically before our tires, so slow down and enjoy the ride.
For more information, visit www.conservationofbiodiversity.wordpress.com.
Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is a freelance writer who is based in Santa Cruz. Also view her stories on the Sentinel’s Out and About blog at www.santacruzsentinel.com/blogs.