Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Euphoria in a prickly pear cactus flower

with 57 comments

Euphoria kernii Beetles in Prickly Pear Flower 9008

No sooner do the flowers of the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri) appear here each spring than the Euphoria kernii beetles get into a state of euphoria inside them, as you see in this photograph taken along Bluegrass Dr. on May 1st. Notice that some much smaller insects were also profiting from the pollen and nectar in the cactus flower.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 29, 2015 at 5:29 AM

57 Responses

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  1. Terrific!

    Birder's Journey

    May 29, 2015 at 6:30 AM

  2. Thanks to your photo, I am euphoric (almost) to have discovered the Haldeman brothers, a new word, ( to me) coleopterist, and that this beetle is a plains bumble scarab. And here I was thinking that scarabs = Egypt.


    May 29, 2015 at 6:53 AM

    • I hadn’t gone as far as you in pursuing the name Haldeman at the top of the linked page, but now I’ve followed your lead:


      I knew that Coleoptera was the entomological term for the group of insects comprising beetles and weevils. The Greek-derived name means ‘sheathed wings,’ which accurately describes a feature of those insects.

      The name “plains bumble scarab” is good for a laugh, and beetles of this type do seem to bumble around inside flowers. And it’s true that scarab doesn’t necessarily imply ancient Egypt.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 29, 2015 at 8:47 AM

  3. Must be something tasty in there. Funny.

    Jim in IA

    May 29, 2015 at 7:59 AM

    • Tasty to insects, at any rate. Even without insects present, I’ve never tried sticking my tongue into one of these flowers to see what they taste like.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 29, 2015 at 8:49 AM

      • Sweet, I assume. You can pull some of the blossom of clover and taste sweetness. Some people put flowers on salads.

        Jim in IA

        May 29, 2015 at 9:28 AM

        • If I ever try the experiment, which means being careful of spines and especially glochids, I’ll let you know what my taste buds report.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 29, 2015 at 4:23 PM

  4. Gorgeous photo; cactus blooms are so special as the arid ‘garden’ comes alive.

    Regarding the bugs, we noticed them fir the furst time last year in Colorado when they literally covered a sage-like 3 foot high plant that had tiny September blossoms. We couldn’t identify either the plant or the bug, although I suspect the bug is in the beetle family (??). I now have a Colorado native plant book and will figure out what that plant is and why these bugs literally swarmed it while ignoring all other plants.

    Sammy D.

    May 29, 2015 at 8:30 AM

    • When I was briefly in the southwestern corner of Colorado last fall, I bought I native plant book in the bookstore in Durango. Plants are bad enough, but there are many more species of insects. The page that I linked to in the text says that this species of beetle feeds on the nectar and pollen of four genera:

      Pricklypoppy, Argemone spp., Papaveraceae
      Pricklypear, Opuntia spp., Cactaceae
      Thistle, Cirsium spp., Asteraceae
      Yucca, Yucca spp., Liliaceae

      If that’s correct, then your sage-like plant should be among those four.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 29, 2015 at 8:59 AM

      • Thanks, Steve. I read that, too and none sound like ‘my’ bush fits those labels, but I am going to begin by ruling them out by comparing plant to descriptions etc.

        We’ve had so much rain that our spring is quite different this year and most trails are closed so walkers and bikers can’t go off-trail to avoid the water and cause further damage to growth. I anticipate being able to get out on trails next week. And boy will our allergy season be prolific when the temps heat up and sun makes it all pop at once !! Photo of Colorado SNEEZING !!!

        Sammy D.

        May 29, 2015 at 9:58 AM

        • You may have read or seen on television that Texas has also had an inordinate amount of rain, enough to make this the wettest May ever in Austin. Today we finally got some sunshine and I set out to take pictures but I had to wear rubber boots because the prairie where I went still had water on it in many places.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 29, 2015 at 4:22 PM

          • Yeah, It’s been crazy for so many states. Many losing homes and farm yields. Really sad ; I remind myself of that!

            Sammy D.

            May 29, 2015 at 4:35 PM

  5. Oh, duh, I see I should have read your caption !! Thanks for the beetle ID 😜

    Sammy D.

    May 29, 2015 at 8:32 AM

  6. EW!! I’m happy to say I didn’t see this when the cacti bloomed here. Now that I think about it I suspect it came down to timing. It seems I like beetles just fine one at a time but have a visceral reaction to a swarm of them. Probably evolutionary.


    May 29, 2015 at 8:54 AM

    • Maybe you weren’t as revolted as you thought, because your EW!! has only one W, as opposed to the Eww…w I’ve sometimes seen elsewhere. On the other hand, one capitalized W might be worth two or three lower-case w’s. In any case, it mustn’t be fun for you to think of your ancestors (or yourself) getting devoured by swarms of hungry beetles.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 29, 2015 at 9:03 AM

  7. Quite a feast.


    May 29, 2015 at 8:58 AM

  8. Steve, Do you perhaps know what this plant is?

    Sent from my iPhone


    Judy Mattair

    May 29, 2015 at 10:47 AM

  9. They look like the Colorado potato beetle. There was nothing in the link to indicate they’re related, other than a similar shape and color. On the other hand, there’s a gazillion beetles around. I’m surprised there’s even names for so many of them.

    Nice picture – I like what you did to show the colors of the flower and the beetles too.



    May 29, 2015 at 3:05 PM

    • You said it with the word gazillion, Nancy. I don’t remember how I first identified this species, but I’m glad I did because I often see these beetles in prickly pear flowers. Now if I could only get them to stop what they’re doing and turn around for a portrait…

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 29, 2015 at 3:40 PM

      • You’ve been incredibly patient to get some of the shots you do get. I bet if you wait long enough, they will. I used to feel that way about the honeybees in the passion flowers and that never happened either!


        May 29, 2015 at 3:48 PM

        • I’m afraid these beetles are too engrossed in what they’re doing at the base of the stamens to have any interest in turning around. Sometimes I’ve seen stamens in prickly pear flowers moving as if by themselves—it’s a strange sight— and then I know there’s at least one of these beetles at work so far down that no part of it (or them) is visible.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 29, 2015 at 4:04 PM

  10. That is a very interesting image! The beetles definitely dressed in color-coordinated attire!

  11. Wow! This is so beautiful, Steve. Really nicely captured!

    • Thanks, Isabel. This is a fairly common sight in Austin in the spring, one that I hope you’ll get to see in person someday.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 29, 2015 at 4:16 PM

  12. If you do attempt to taste the flower, it would be interesting to see what kind of cross-pollination you could accomplish.
    That’s some wild party full of swingers in there. I’ve only ever found one bee at a time in a flower…unless someone smaller was hiding until the bee exited.

    Steve Gingold

    May 29, 2015 at 4:29 PM

    • I think I’m too large to be a good pollinator.

      Insects in Massachusetts must be more timid than those in Texas, because I often find several or occasionally many insects on and in our wildflowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 29, 2015 at 5:42 PM

  13. If only the Euphoria also fed on Euphorbia. Alliteralists of the world would rejoice!

    They remind me of two other swarming insects I grew up with: the box elder bug that feeds on maple and ash, and the ants that feed on the nectar covering peony buds. Given how specialized some plant/insect relationships can be, I wonder whether the small ones on the outside are simply giving way to the larger, or if there’s a real division of labor going on.

    It certainly would be easy to miss the beetles with a quick glance. They easily could be mistaken for part of the flower.


    May 29, 2015 at 7:22 PM

    • Surely there must be a Euphorbia euphoria out there somewhere waiting to be discovered.

      Steve Gingold

      May 29, 2015 at 7:40 PM

    • It’s interesting that the insect called a box elder bug feeds on maple and ash. I wonder if you just didn’t happen to have any box elders near you when you were growing up, and so you associated those insects with the trees that you did see them feeding on.

      I’ve seen ants on many kinds of plants, including a basket-flower this morning. They usually run about a lot, up and down and around, but I don’t know what they’re looking for. Often I don’t know what I’m looking for either, so that makes us equal (except I’m a lot bigger).

      I see how the beetles blend in and could be overlooked, but I’ve seen them in prickly pear flowers for so many years that I expect them and know to look for them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 29, 2015 at 10:47 PM

      • Here’s something else interesting. The trees we call box elder belong to the genus Acer, which includes maple trees. In fact, the box elder sometimes is called the ash-leaf maple. While ash trees belong to a different genus, common names for box elder include black-leaf ash and sugar ash.

        So. The bugs clearly were feeding on the maple trees in my childhood yard, but the “ash” they were feeding on might or might not have been a true ash. While they will feed on ash, our trees might well have been box elder, called by a different common name.

        I found this tidbit interesting, too: “The name box elder (sometimes boxelder) is in reference to a use of the wood for making crates and boxes and the supposed similarity of the leaves to those of elder (Sambucus). Leaves also resemble those of some ashes, hence the additional common name of ash-leaved maple.”

        Now, there’s only one unanswered question. When Acer computers get a bug, is it black and orange?


        May 31, 2015 at 9:45 AM

        • Thanks for pointing out that box elder is really a kind of maple, something I’d forgotten or never knew. As you’re aware, there’s a lot of confusion engendered by the popular names for plants. The main example in central Texas is the so-called cedar tree, which is really a juniper. Even people who have heard that it’s an Ashe juniper sometimes think that that means “ash juniper,” with some sort of reference to an ash tree or to an ashen color. The fact that Ashe is capitalized (and has an -e at the end) is a clue to the fact that the species is named after a person called Ashe.

          Your mention of Sambucus reminds me that the elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra) are flowering now. Your punning question about Acer computers reminds me that as a former student of Latin I mentally pronounced the genus Acer as Ah-care, which I imagine is different from the way almost all American botanists say the word.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 31, 2015 at 10:18 AM

  14. This is a much more attractive little bug display than the one we have at home. That is, at home, we have a ceiling lamp that is a great attractor of bugs, who ultimately go to their final rest in the lampshade. I look up at them and think, I should really clean that out, but then I think, I need a tall ladder, etc., and I wimp out. One day . . .

    Susan Scheid

    May 30, 2015 at 7:18 AM

    • I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Euphoria kernii beetles dead inside a prickly pear flower, so that doesn’t appear to be a final resting place for them. No more so, now that I think of it, than people in restaurants.

      As for your plan to clean out the lampshade, Robert Burns reminded us that “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley…”

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 30, 2015 at 7:53 AM

  15. So that’s who those little guys are. I’ve found them to be deeply fond of my irises, happy to dive into the pollen-rich beards there, too. Mine must have missed the memo about the four floral genera favored by most of their ilk, since I’m dubious iris fit into any of those groups. But the beetles (I love the name “plains bumble scarab”!) were blissed out enough that perhaps they simply forgot their mission, sort of like barfly buddies who got too—bumbling—drunk on their way to remember how to get to the liquor store.


    June 1, 2015 at 12:46 PM

    • That’s a good way to phrase it: “deeply fond.” I don’t know how to reconcile your irises with the four genera listed in the linked article. I wonder if the list was limited to the native species that these beetles evolved with. If so, then newly introduced species might appeal to the beetles too. If you reincarnate as a botanist, this can be a problem for you to work on.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 1, 2015 at 7:17 PM

      • I think I can safely say that if I merit reincarnation it’ll far more likely be as one of the aforementioned beetles. But at least I’ll get a shot at insider information, then.


        June 2, 2015 at 12:59 AM

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