How biologists are working to keep the Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle off the endangered species list

Among exotic bugs facing mortal threats, few appear better set to survive than the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle, an aggressive carnivore uniquely adapted to endure super-intense heat and some of the planet’s harshest scouring sand.

Its habitat within the wilderness of Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve already is protected from motorized recreationists and other perils.

“Other beetles should be so lucky as the tiger beetle,” said National Park Service biologist Fred Bunch, chief of natural resources at the dunes, who has observed the insects for 27 years.

But, depending on results of an upcoming U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey, this hairy, green-headed beetle with a violin-shaped mark on its back could be placed on the list of endangered species, requiring the ecological equivalent of emergency room resuscitation.

The uproars over endangered polar bears, rhinos, tigers and other charismatic big creatures have obscured a quieter emergence of growing numbers of bugs on the government’s roster of species going extinct. Today’s Endangered Species Act list of 1,447 animals includes 84 insects. Beyond bees and monarch butterflies, some of those most recently determined to be dwindling are beetles, such as the Northeastern Beach tiger beetle, a relative of the Great Sand Dunes beetle.

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