Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
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Endemic tiger beetle seeking shade 
(photo courtesy of Phyllis Bovin) 

Endemic Insects

You may have seen islands surrounded by a sea of water before, but have you seen a sand island surrounded by a sea of vegetation? If you have visited Great Sand Dunes you have. In this special way, the dunefield of Great Sand Dunes is a sand island isolated by hundreds of square miles of vegetation. Although a few smaller dunefields can be found east of Colorado's Front Range, to find other expanses of dunes, you will need to travel to Utah, southern New Mexico, or western Nebraska. Great Sand Dunes is the only major dune system in this area. Because of their isolation from other sandy habitats, several species of sand-loving insects are found at Great Sand Dunes and nowhere else in the world.

Even if these endemic insects tried to go live in other places, they wouldn't be able to fly far enough to find a suitable sandy home—with a suitable mate! This is their only home, unless the climate changes and sandy corridors bridge the gap by linking Great Sand Dunes with dunefields elsewhere.

How did these insects get here in the first place? Sometime during the last Ice Age, there may have been more habitat for sand-loving insects than there is today. Although it was colder, it may also have been drier for long periods of time. This allowed more dunefields to exist in North America. But when the climate warmed about 13,000 years ago, rain fell more often and the great expanses of open sand dunes became smaller and vegetated. Bare fields of sand became more isolated. In the San Luis Valley, one extremely sand-loving species of tiger beetle was cut off from its relatives and, over time, became just a bit more specialized (and different) than its closest relative. At least that's the theory of why the Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle and a number of other endemic insects are found only at Great Sand Dunes.

Recently, researchers have studied the life history of one of these endemic insects—the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle, known to scientists as Cicindela theatina. They spent a number of summers studying the behavior and habitat preferences of C. theatina. Some of the details of their research are available in the Field Notes at right.

Study these Field Notes and use them to help you complete A Day in the Life of a Sand Tiger for a clue.

Explore Great Sand Dunes’ web page on Insects for more on the unique endemic species of the park.


Action Photos

Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle


Great Sand Dunes Darkling Beetle


Giant Sand Treader Camel Cricket

Field Notes

Types of Tiger Beetle Activity


What Do Tiger Beetles Do When It's Hot? (graph)


Tiger Beetle Activity and Temperature (data)


Tiger Beetles and Ground Cover (data)


Life Cycle of the Tiger Beetle (image and data)


Interview with Phyllis Bovin


Critical Thinking For Teachers

Colorado Content Standards
Science: 6th grade 2.1, 2.2; 7th grade 2.1, 2.5; 8th grade 2.2
Grade Level
6th - 8th Grade
data outlier, endemic, habitat, instar, mean, teneral adult, transect
Endemic Insects at Great Sand Dunes, A Journey North, Monarch Watch, Wonderful World of Insects, The Entomologists
Phyllis M. Pineda and Boris C. Kondratieff. 2003. Natural history of the Colorado Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle, Cicindela theatina Rotger. Transactions of the American Entomological Society 129(3-4): 333-360.
Phyllis M. Pineda and Boris C. Kondratieff. 2002. The larvae of Cicindela theatina (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae), a regional North American sand dune endemic. Entomological News 113(3): 163-172.
Phyllis Pineda. 2002. Natural history of the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle and invertebrate inventory of Indian Spring Natural Area at Great Sand Dunes, Colorado. Master's of Science Thesis. Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.
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