Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

It isn’t easy being green

with 73 comments

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No, it isn’t easy being green, not when you’re out there in the open, invitingly succulent yet defenseless against any hungry predators. But I was a predator hungry only for pictures when, after a couple of hours of wandering about with my camera in the increasing heat at Tejas Camp in Williamson County on April 26, I came across a caterpillar on some gaura—and there was a lot of gaura out there, let me tell you. And I think I can tell you that this chubby, two-inch-long caterpillar was the larva of a white-lined sphinx moth, Hyles lineata.

The caterpillar kept busily chomping away at the gaura and I kept busy taking pictures of it from various angles. At the point you see here, the caterpillar had lifted its front end away from the gaura stalk, but it continued working on the little piece of the plant it had pulled loose and partially chewed. The fact that the caterpillar’s head was now some distance from the stalk let me get in close for this portrait, a first of its kind for me.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 6, 2012 at 5:28 AM

73 Responses

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  1. That was fabulous. Caterpillar right out of Alice, fat to bursting, eating its way toward metamorphosis. What a shot:)

    The Wanderlust Gene

    May 6, 2012 at 5:43 AM

    • I like your vivid descriptions (“fat to bursting, eating its way toward metamorphosis”) and the reference to Alice. Nature is a wonderland to anyone who has a camera for a looking-glass.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 7:30 AM

      • A great post deserves a thoughtful response, at least. And I like your ‘camera for a looking-glass”. Hope to see more of your work. 🙂

        The Wanderlust Gene

        May 6, 2012 at 7:38 AM

      • Thanks again. I’ll have plenty more pictures coming your way.

        Steve Schwartzman

        May 6, 2012 at 7:47 AM

  2. This photo is wonderful- a caterpillar with personality. Thanks for sending it.

    Lynn Somerstein

    May 6, 2012 at 6:08 AM

  3. That was really a portrait, Steven!


    May 6, 2012 at 6:43 AM

  4. I am truly amazed by this shot!

    Sheila T Illustrated

    May 6, 2012 at 6:45 AM

    • Thanks, Sheila. It complements the very different different one you did of your pit bull Lola. (By the way, in the Philippines a lola is a grandmother.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 7:36 AM

      • 🙂 She is starting to get a bit of arthritis in her hind quarters.

      • I wondered whether it became difficult for the caterpillar to hold itself up by its hind quarters. Maybe that’s something caterpillars can do more easily than we think.

        Steve Schwartzman

        May 6, 2012 at 1:00 PM

  5. Gorgeous! I haven’t been able to find a caterpillar yet! Weather’s been too darn wet for them.

    • I’ve seen more caterpillars this year than ever before; as I’ve been reporting since late January, we’ve had plenty of plants for them to eat.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 7:38 AM

    • And I should add that in taking this picture I felt like Alice through the macro lens, which is my main looking-glass.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 7:49 AM

  6. He’s quite beautiful in a green kind of way! What a lovely shot!


    May 6, 2012 at 7:22 AM

  7. ewwwwww that’s gross!! I was eating Kale chickpea salad half asleep! hehehe Part of me says…oooo how did he get such a view and the rest says……..DON’T LOOK AGAIN. 🙂

    Elisa's Spot

    May 6, 2012 at 7:33 AM

    • I can add to your ewwwwwwness by mentioning that at one point a green bubble of liquid emerged from the caterpillar’s mouth, presumably some already digested or partly digested plant matter. But you can think about the technical side of taking the picture instead.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 7:43 AM

      • “… A green bubble of liquid emerged from the caterpillar’s mouth…” Say Steve; I’m wondering how many people can say that they’ve seen a caterpillar belch? Awesome photo!: )

        Deb Weyrich-Cody

        November 11, 2015 at 8:59 PM

        • Probably not many people have observed something like that. I’m glad I was able to and also able to photograph the caterpillar in question.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 11, 2015 at 10:00 PM

  8. What a show-stopper! Of course my first thought was of Alice – you don’t have a photo of a hookah waiting for us, by any chance? (Time to cue Grace Slick and that little bit of history.)

    I wondered where its eyes were – if I’ve figured this out correctly, those tiny brown dots are them. Interesting that some caterpillars also have eye spots that are purely decorative/protective.

    This is one of the sweetest portraits I’ve seen. I really feel quite a bit of affection for this little creature. though I’ll admit that’s hardly the response I would have expected.


    May 6, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    • Here’s a slick coincidence: a story on CBS Sunday Morning a few minutes ago happened to mention Jefferson Airplane. But no, there was no hookah anywhere in sight of this caterpillar; no hookah, but plenty of gaura.

      The caterpillar seems to have at least three eyes on each side of its head (I’m going by other pictures of it as well), but I don’t know which if any of them are real eyes. Where’s an entomologist when we need one? An etymologist just won’t do.

      In any case, I’m glad you feel affection for what you find—in spite of yourself—to be a sweet portrait.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 8:48 AM

  9. Yeah, these are like green cocktail wieners for birds. We had a lovely Cecropia larva in the yard and that is one chubby morsel. Nice close up of this handsome devil, Steve.

    Steve Gingold

    May 6, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    • Thanks for another imaginative description: “green cocktail wieners for birds.” It sounds as if your Cecropia larva didn’t survive. I don’t know if the one I photographed ended up being a morsel for some larger being.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 8:51 AM

  10. Wow, that is one of the most incredible macro shots I have ever seen. The detail is incredible, and he is really kind of cute in an icky sort of way! 🙂

    • Another good phrase: “really kind of cute in an icky sort of way!” Maybe you can try that line out on a person and tell us what sort of reaction you got. Like you, I was pleased with the details in this portrait.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 9:02 AM

      • I tried the line on my husband and he said it’s the nicest thing I have ever said to him!! LMAO

      • Sounds like you’re onto something there: you’d better hurry up and trademark the line before someone else takes it.

        Steve Schwartzman

        May 6, 2012 at 9:13 AM

  11. Wow, amazing shot, Steve.
    Not the sort of angle that you might ever be able to shoot again.


    May 6, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    • Most of the other pictures I took of the caterpillar were in more conventional poses, so I was fortunate to get some with its head pulled back. You may be right that I won’t get that chance again, but I hope there’ll be other opportunities.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 9:04 AM

  12. Hi Steve. Thanks for stopping my by site! I’m so glad you did. These posts are great! I’m looking forward to seeing more!

    Cathy G

    May 6, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    • Thanks, Cathy, and welcome to the world of nature in central Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 1:01 PM

      • Will be interesting as I’m coming to you from South Central Texas! Are you shooting from a particular spot or the general area? 🙂

        Cathy G

        May 6, 2012 at 2:05 PM

        • I live in Austin, so most of the pictures I take are from here, but I often venture an hour out of town in various directions. At the end of March my wife and I drove down to Goliad and Kenedy, so perhaps we were in your territory. I started posting pictures from that trip on April 4 and continued on and off for a couple of weeks.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 6, 2012 at 2:44 PM

  13. Wow, what a shot!


    May 6, 2012 at 2:29 PM

  14. I like the comment from Wanderlust…perfect.Great shot Steve!


    May 6, 2012 at 3:11 PM

  15. Jabba the hut?!?


    May 6, 2012 at 8:48 PM

  16. S/He may have trouble being green, but you have no trouble being patient! The detail!


    May 6, 2012 at 8:52 PM

    • I spent a while with the green caterpillar and took a bunch of pictures, though I think this is my favorite. As always, I’ll give some of the credit to my 100mm Canon macro lens.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 9:45 PM

      • I wish there was a link to an entire album of this guy. I’d love to see all the angles, not just his clever, seductive pose. Sometimes wishes do come true…LOL


        May 7, 2012 at 9:08 AM

      • There’s so much happening here in nature now that I’m overwhelmed with things that I’d like to show. If you know of any way for me to clone myself, there could be more posts devoted to this caterpillar—and so much more.

        Steve Schwartzman

        May 7, 2012 at 3:22 PM

  17. wow, amazing!!!!


    May 7, 2012 at 12:18 AM

  18. Excellent, ce n’est pas tous les jours que l’on peut observer un tel glouton à l’oeuvre.


    May 7, 2012 at 7:49 AM

  19. Extra !! Ta chenille me fait penser à celle d’un film de Pixar “a bug’s life”. Enorme, et c’est le cas de le dire !


    May 7, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    • Merci. Je ne connaissais pas le film, mais c’est peut-être à cette image que tu penses.

      Lemarcal says that this caterpillar reminds him of the Pixar film A Bug’s Life. I wasn’t familiar with it, but an Internet search led me to an image that could well be the one he was thinking of.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2012 at 5:12 PM

      • Yop ! That’s it ! Very funny movie, you should watch it ! 😉


        May 7, 2012 at 5:18 PM

  20. Almost alien like. Amazing shot.


    May 8, 2012 at 8:10 PM

  21. […] photograph brings back not only the caterpillarness of It isn’t easy being green but also the date and place of that picture: the cloudy morning of April 26 at Tejas Camp in […]

  22. Love the title of the post as much as the picture itself! Very nice shot!

    The Jagged Man

    May 12, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    • I’m glad both the title and the picture resonated with you. Sometimes I give straightforward titles and other times I make an allusion to something outside the world of botany.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 12, 2012 at 5:43 AM

  23. […] ones in the upper right from basket-flowers, Centaurea americana. If I was correct in identifying the rotund green eating machine that caught your fancy in a recent post, then this is the moth that that kind of caterpillar […]

  24. […] A jolly green caterpillar and some mating stilt bugs may have been the highlights of my wanderings at Tejas Camp in Williamson County on April 26 of this year, but there were plenty (planty?) of other things that caught my attention. In today’s picture, the green of gaura and other vegetation served only as a background to this flower of a cut-leaf evening primrose, Oenothera laciniata, which happens to be in the same botanical family as gaura. Cut-leaf evening primrose flowers are yellow in their prime, but when they begin to shrivel they often turn the reddish-orange color you see here. […]

  25. A great photo, Steve! And what a cute little fellow this is. I often wonder about how we humans see things with small paws or claws, holding their food, and immediately the ‘ahhh’ factor comes in!


    August 8, 2012 at 7:20 AM

    • Thanks, Val. I think this is my all-time best caterpillar photograph, thanks to the way the caterpillar pulled its head and upper body back.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 8, 2012 at 9:27 AM

  26. […] The person probably wanted a picture of a caterpillar on a succulent but ended up being taken to a very succulent caterpillar. […]

  27. Okay, now I have a fear of Caterpillars!! lol Seeing them in Macro images really does provide a sense of the amazing detail and complexity of their make up.


    Miss Lou

    April 10, 2014 at 8:03 PM

  28. Wonderful portrait!


    May 19, 2015 at 2:08 AM

  29. Good advice, except I can’t follow #1. I have to live the story in my mind to write it with emotion. Because of that I avoid harsh topics because it takes me to dark scary places I don’t want to be.

    Terry Robinson

    May 19, 2015 at 6:40 PM

  30. My first thought was “this is a face only a mother could love,” but upon closer scrutiny, I find it quite endearing. It looks like a chubby baby that’s stuffing its face (which is exactly what it’s doing).


    August 17, 2021 at 4:45 PM

    • This is a “golden oldie” that’s still endearing after nine years. “Chubby is just the right word, and stuffing their faces is what caterpillars exist for.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 17, 2021 at 6:44 PM

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