Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A still closer look at snow-on-the-prairie, along with a resident

with 17 comments

Click for greater size and clarity.

Here’s a view of snow-on-the-mountain, Euphorbia bicolor, that’s a quantum leap closer than the last two. Now you can almost feel how soft and fuzzy the bracts of this plant are. From a distance people sometimes mistakes these showy bracts for flower petals, but that’s not what they are. The flower—not yet open—is at the lower left, but it doesn’t include the outer “collar” of white lobes or even the inner one of five pale green segments: the actual flower is the nondescript little thing at the center of the inner ring.

And speaking of little creatures, it’d be hard to miss the prominent spider sitting on its temporary green throne. Spider Joe Lapp has identified it as a northern crab spider, Mecaphesa asperata. I assumed it was responsible for rolling up these bracts and tying them together with some of its silk in a way that reminds me of a linen napkin held inside a napkin ring, but Spider Joe thinks that’s unlikely: “Sometimes these spiders take over refuges that other spiders or caterpillars have folded, so it really all depends on the folding itself. These spiders can only fold flimsy things like petals and sepals — except when they’ve made an egg sac, in which case stiffer things can be folded.”

I took this picture on August 23 at Southeast Metropolitan Park. For those of you who are interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 6, 8, and 18 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 1, 2012 at 6:01 AM

17 Responses

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  1. Very nice pic! Those bracts do look really fuzzy and touchable. As often, when I see one of your pix with a bug on it, I open up my OS magnifier to see even closer than the clarity view. The spider shows a face, oriented towards 11 o’clock, very symmetrical. Its colors look regal to me–gold, alabaster, and ebony. The bands near the arm joints and tips make me think of decorative armbands you might visualize on ancient Egyptian images.


    September 1, 2012 at 7:52 AM

    • Thanks, Wanda. Given that you live in Austin, you can have the experience of touching a real live snow-on-the-prairie. If you go driving east of Interstate 35, say along Howard Lane or Parmer Lane, or on Dessau Rd., you’ll probably see some. And as for seeing, I’m glad you let us know what your imagination conjured up when viewing an enlarged view of our friend the spider. There does seem to be a face, doesn’t there? I see the armbands, but I confess they would never have carried me back to ancient Egypt.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2012 at 8:09 AM

  2. Somehow, Steve, you managed to beat me to my own comments. Love the photo. Thanks for periodically sharing your spider findings.

    Spider Joe

    September 1, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    • I figured there’d be nothing better than to quote the man himself. Thanks as always for your identification.

      Sometimes it seems as if every single plant I photograph has a spider or spider silk on it, so there’ll never be a shortage of spider-related pictures to show here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2012 at 8:53 AM

      • I enjoy flowers, but the spiders are why I’m here. I think you know this, but for other people’s benefit: I’m working on a field guide to the flower crab spiders. The process appears to require that I first revise a genus or two, since Texas crab spiders haven’t been looked at since 1939.

        Spider Joe

        September 1, 2012 at 8:59 AM

        • I didn’t know you’re working on a field guide to the flower crab spiders, but that would be very helpful to someone like me. Hard to imagine that this group hasn’t been looked at since 1939. I have photographs of my mother and father when they were young at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 1, 2012 at 9:04 AM

      • California’s crab spiders were revised in 1965, and Canada’s in 1989. Canada doesn’t have very many though. Only some of the California species match Texas spiders. Texas appears to have some not previously described.

        Spider Joe

        September 1, 2012 at 9:08 AM

        • What an opportunity for you to describe the species not previously described. Maybe there’ll even be a Mecaphesa lappii.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 1, 2012 at 10:13 AM

  3. Yes, the snow-on-the-prairie’s wonderful, but that’s one stupendous spider. I think it’s probably my favorite spider photo yet, mostly because of the expression on its face. Clearly, it’s feeling a little world-weary, or perhaps set-upon. I really do wish I could talk to this one and find out what’s been happening in its life!


    September 1, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    • Better set-upon than sat-upon, I think you’ll agree. Sometimes spiders get perturbed by my close picture-taking, but I’ve observed that although they may shift position, they generally hold their ground and rarely run away to the actual ground. This is definitely one anthropomorphic spider, what with that face that we see on its abdomen. I wonder if any would-be predators see it as a threatening face.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2012 at 8:59 AM

      • My goodness. I didn’t even see that “face” on the abdomen. Thanks for pointing it out. My imagination was caught by the “top hat” the little guy seems to be wearing.


        September 1, 2012 at 9:27 AM

        • A funny face and a top hat: I could dance around it, but I’ll just come right out and say that I should be called the Fred Astaire of Texas nature photography.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 1, 2012 at 10:15 AM

  4. […] one of five pale green segments, both of which would seem to us to be flower parts. The flower in the previous picture, like the partially obscured one here, wasn’t open yet, but the two prominent ones seen in […]

  5. This is a beautiful shot Steve. I really like the closeup details and all of the fuzziness!

    Michael Glover

    September 8, 2012 at 6:31 PM

    • I’m glad the fuzziness appeals to you, too, Michael. It makes me want to roll up in those leaves the way the spider did.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 8, 2012 at 6:43 PM

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