Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Royal purple, sepulchral white

with 24 comments

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When I started wandering the prairies, hills, and canyons of central Texas 12 years ago in order to observe and photograph nature, I soon began coming across the tiny white shells of land snails. Most of these have been on the ground, sometimes several or even many in a small area, but occasionally I’ve found one attached in isolation to the branch of a living or dead plant. The shell that you see here was one of those; it was close to some of the bluebells I photographed on June 10 on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin. The picture I posted soon afterwards of a bluebell bud was from the same session, and in today’s picture you can see quite a bit of purple from the bluebell flowers that weren’t far away, yet were distant enough to remain obligingly out of focus.

Like the exuviae of a cicada, these empty snail shells linger in the landscape for months and years, gradually getting covered in dust and dirt and losing the pristine, almost idealized form they had when still an immaculate white. Unlike exuviae, which though empty of life mark a passage to the next stage in an insect’s development, each of these tiny snail shells is an ending from which nothing further emerged.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 23, 2011 at 5:49 AM

24 Responses

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  1. Lovely image! I like the soft purple and green background colors, and the texture and pattern of the snail shell is just beautiful in contrast.


    August 23, 2011 at 6:39 AM

  2. This is beautiful. The textured shape of the shell is complemented by the lovely colours in the background.

    Journey Photographic

    August 23, 2011 at 7:21 AM

  3. I love love LOVE this picture.


    August 23, 2011 at 8:17 AM

  4. very beautiful snail!


    August 23, 2011 at 8:53 PM

  5. This is a beautiful image – as previously mentioned, the colour and textural contrasts, the composition – quite a treasure. I appreciated the narrative as well, the shell representing an ending of life, an enduring monument.


    August 24, 2011 at 8:55 AM

  6. This is fascinating, Steven. The background color is perfect!


    August 25, 2011 at 5:51 PM

  7. beautiful. so perfect.


    August 27, 2011 at 8:48 PM

  8. Now wait, there’s some species of bee that overwinters in those shells! So it’s not quite an ending. I can’t remember which bee it is on chalk prairie; some web sites mention mason bees specializing in snail shells. Not a bad home!


    August 27, 2011 at 10:40 PM

    • Now that’s something I didn’t know. I’m grateful that you told us. While a shell like this one is still attached to a branch, I’m not sure a bee would be able to enter. In my contacts this past week with a couple of attached shells, I found that they came off fairly easily and fell to the ground, where an insect would have been able to enter.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2011 at 11:25 PM

  9. very nice – the purple makes it.

    Sheila Creighton

    September 2, 2011 at 2:46 PM

  10. Hi Steve .. thank you for directing me/us here .. I’ve always marvelled at these tiny snails and their shells – we have similar here – they are just beautiful … the Fibonacci numbers do seem to ‘rule the world’ – I’m putting in Brain Picking’s video here .. as anyone else coming upon your post may enjoy the Fibonacci video .. it’s stunning and visually beautiful: Nature by Numbers .. short video can be found here:


    I know it’ll appeal to your maths teacher’s mind …. love these shells – now going to embrace the purple blue of the bluebells … cheers Hilary


    February 4, 2012 at 2:02 AM

    • Thanks for the link to the Fibonacci video; it’s well worth watching (I’ve seen it twice so far). Even non-math people can appreciate it for its computer graphics.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 4, 2012 at 7:49 AM

  11. […] a tiny snail […]

  12. What do they eat?


    June 4, 2012 at 9:29 AM

  13. […] tree, but a snail in a cedar elm tree, Ulmus crassifolia. Most of the snails I find on plants are tiny and white, but this one was larger and had tan and brown markings, as you can […]

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