It’s man versus beetle on the Chesapeake Bay. Invasive beetle species such as the emerald ash borer or the Asian longhorned beetle get a lot of attention in the press for the damage they do to trees in North America, as scientists try to figure out ways to control them. However, another beetle in the state of Maryland — the puritan tiger beetle (Cicindela puritana) — is getting attention for the opposite reason, as scientist try to preserve them.
Normally, this sort of thing would probably go unnoticed, but this is no ordinary situation. The puritan tiger beetles occupy some of the best real estate in the Chesapeake Bay region, making their homes in the Calvert Cliffs which rise as high as 100 feet above the Bay, much to the dismay of homeowners who are in danger of losing their property because of conservation polices that protect the beetle.
The cliffs in Calvert County are made of sediment — not rock — that was deposited there between 10 to 20 million years ago. This sand and clay mixture is extremely vulnerable to erosion, so homeowners who have built houses on top of the cliffs need to take action to ensure they do not wash away. However, environmental regulations limit or prohibit them from doing so because it could affect the habitat of the puritan tiger beetle, which is an endangered species.
“When we first moved here, we had like 30 feet of beach and we had about a 30-foot section of land that set up about four feet above the water. All of that in 22 years has washed away,” one homeowner told a local TV station. “I think that people are more important than the beetles. We all want to protect the environment, but we don’t want our houses to wash away.”
Glenn Therres, associate director of natural heritage at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, sees it differently.
“[The beetle] is more like a canary in a coal mine,” he said. “It’s indicating that something is going on in the environment that is causing it problems and causing its environmental problems, which, in our case, is the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.”
“I would equate the loss of the Puritan tiger beetle with the loss of the polar bear,” said Michael Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland. “If it had fur and a cute smile and were the size of a cat, people would be more concerned about the loss of this thing.”
Time will tell if some kind of solution can be reached in the future, one that would preserve the beetle and the homes.
“I think the next step is going to entail developing a habitat for this endangered species in areas that are protected, so that way we can allow the homeowners to protect their life savings and their interests,” said Calvert County Delegate Tony O’Donnell.
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