Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Goers in the snow

with 24 comments

Orange-Black Insect on Snow-on-the-Mountain 7191

While taking pictures of snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) in Cedar Park on August 30th I couldn’t help noticing lots of insects coming to the flowers. Some tiny ones were on a par with the plants’ small flowers. In contrast, this female tarantula hawk* (Pepsis spp.), at perhaps two inches in length (5cm), was by far the largest visitor I saw, and its quick movements made picture-taking difficult. Also apparently difficult to bear is the pain felt if one of these wasps stings you. An article I read says that the best reaction is to “lie down and start screaming, because few if any people could maintain verbal and physical coordination after getting stung by one of these things.” Fortunately I have no personal experience with that. The wasp went about its business feeding on the flowers’ nectar, I went about my business taking pictures of the wasp, and although in close company, never we twain did meet.

* Thanks to a volunteer at BugGuide.net for identifying this wasp as a female in the genus Pepsis.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 9, 2016 at 4:56 AM

24 Responses

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  1. I was wondering what that plant was with the variegated green and white…very lovely. Thank you.

    Maria Gianna Iannucci

    September 9, 2016 at 5:29 AM

  2. Great image but no thank you. I live in Central Illinois and have never seen or heard of this Wasp.


    September 9, 2016 at 7:37 AM

    • What I’ve read confirms my (admittedly limited) experience with these wasps: they’re normally docile with people. As close as I was to the wasp in the photograph, it showed no interest in me at all. Perhaps if I’d known then what I learned afterwards, that “the instantaneous pain of a tarantula hawk sting is the greatest recorded for any stinging insect,” I’d have been more cautious. Or perhaps not, because my attitude has always been that if I don’t bother an insect, it won’t bother me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 9, 2016 at 7:53 AM

  3. That has always been my experience as well. I’m always surprised by the hysteria people show around insects. I try to tell them it is probably their flaying about that provokes insects but few listen. It saddens me to hear parents carefully teaching their children to fear and loathe all insects.


    September 9, 2016 at 7:58 AM

    • Once in a rare while I’ve met someone who’d gotten stung by a bee or wasp, had had a bad allergic reaction, and on account of that was leery. In general, though, as you say, there’s not much for most people to worry about. On the other hand, we do hear occasional horror stories about Africanized bees attacking and pursuing people. And fire ants, which seem to be everywhere in Texas, are no fun.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 9, 2016 at 8:12 AM

      • No they sure aren’t. No wonder people wear cowboy boots down there. I wore sandals, and that didn’t protect me at all.


        September 9, 2016 at 9:56 PM

        • No, sandals are no protection. When i go out photographing in nature I always wear closed shoes, jeans, and a long-sleeve shirt but I still often end up with chigger bites even if I spray on a repellent. Having gotten chigger bites on each of my last few outings, this morning I put on my thigh-high boots to wade through tall vegetation, and now at the end of the day there’s no sign of a single bite.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 9, 2016 at 10:31 PM

      • When it comes to fire ants, here’s a tip: no protective clothing in the world will help you out if you’re focusing so intently on your subject that you accidentally stick a bare hand into the middle of a nest. In fact, a long-sleeved shirt might have made the situation worse. Those things made my elbow in record time. Ah, well. There’s nothing like an occasional reminder that those little demons are everywhere.


        September 10, 2016 at 8:34 AM

        • Almost all the fire ant bites I get are on my legs and come from accidentally stepping on or close to a nest that’s hidden by dense grasses or other plants. I wear a long-sleeve shirt not to counteract fire ants but to ward off the sun and to give my sensitive skin protection against the plants I often have to push through.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 10, 2016 at 8:54 AM

  4. That is one mean-lookin’ mama! But I agree with your philosophy that, if you move with care and respect, even the fearsome stinging insects will (nearly always) leave you alone. I remember one incident, however, that has made me extra cautious. While exploring an empty field, I came across an overturned wooden crate. Always the curious one, I had to lift it up. There was a hornets’ nest under it, and I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast. As I recall, (only) five caught me, but they are in clear memory and helped very well to cement the memory. I still thank my lucky stars that I didn’t trip in the underbrush and fall as I ran.


    September 9, 2016 at 12:43 PM

    • I’ve heard about scary encounters with hornets but have never had a run-in with (or run-away from!) any. I’m glad to hear you didn’t trip and fall during your escape.

      The kind of “mean-lookin’ mama” shown in this post has apparently stung its share of incautious or foolhardy people, given the accounts we have of how excruciating the sting is.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 9, 2016 at 2:31 PM

      • This brings to mind the bites of some rattlesnakes. I remember reading that it’s not actually the toxins in the venom that is so dangerous, but rather that the unimaginable pain causes the shock that shuts down the systems. Shudder. Enough said. If you feel that this is getting too deep into the sensitivities of your gentle followers, please feel free to delete this comment. I’m just happy that I’ve never personally encountered anything more inherently deadly than a swarm of hornets, in spite of a couple of dozen trips to Australia, where they have some of the scariest snakes, spiders, and reptiles in the world. Did you know that there are NO snakes in New Zealand and that the only venomous spiders are apparently-windblown immigrants from Australia (the white-tail and the redback)? Happily, both are not generally aggressive.


        September 9, 2016 at 8:23 PM

        • I’ve encountered rattlesnakes maybe half a dozen times but of course wasn’t ever bitten by one and don’t know anyone who has been. I’d assumed that the venom rather than any pain did the damage.

          Yes, I’d read that there are no snakes in New Zealand, just as there are none in Ireland. I hadn’t heard about the wind-blown venomous spiders from Australia. I’m glad to learn that neither one is generally aggressive.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 9, 2016 at 8:49 PM

  5. I am glad you both kept your distance.


    September 10, 2016 at 7:10 AM

  6. If you take away the W from your wasp, you’re left with an asp, and I’d hate to think there’s a wasp with a sting more painful than an asp. They’re fuzzy and cute, but the sting I got last year was worse than anything I’ve experienced — even when I tried drinking a bee and ended up looking like I’d been punched in the mouth for two weeks. I do carry Benadryl in my camera case or pocket now. Being able to take some immediately rather than waiting even a half-hour to get to the car makes a big difference.

    The wasp looks like it used a curling iron on the end of its antennae. Do you happen to know if those curly ends are a physical feature, or a behavior? They surely are attractive. For that matter, so are the crinkly orange wings (or wing covers?).


    September 10, 2016 at 8:44 AM

    • I’m sorry to hear about your wasp and bee incidents. When I expect to be in nature I take a generic Allegra tablet before I go out. I find it reduces the itch of chigger bites and other insect bites. I take a generic Benadryl only at night because that drug makes me drowsy (in fact it’s separately packaged as a sleeping pill and as an antihistamine). In my camera bag I always carry a little tube of hydrocortisone cream for the exterior relief of bites.

      As for the tarantula hawk, I also wondered about the curled ends of the antennae. I’m afraid I know nothing more than what’s in the linked article and one other, which didn’t mention the antennae. The hooks at the tips of the legs, though, are for holding on to prey, and they seem to do double duty as anchors for getting nectar from flowers.

      I know beetles have wing cases (elytra), but I don’t know whether any wasps also do.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 10, 2016 at 9:14 AM

  7. It the flower really called snow-on-the-mountain? That is beautiful! And with its white colour it makes the perfect canvas for its visitors:)


    September 12, 2016 at 12:38 PM

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