Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

You’ve gotta hand it to me

with 45 comments

On April 12th I wandered for close to three hours along the right-of-way beneath the power lines west of Morado Circle. It was spring and a lot was happening there. At one point I noticed a robber fly on a rock on the ground. I moved in slowly with my macro lens, hoping the insect would stay put. It did, and I took a bunch of pictures from several angles. The robber fly seemed unusually docile for one of its kind, and I suddenly wondered whether I could lift up the rock and take pictures that would have a less distracting background.

Slowly I put my left thumb and index finger around the rock to take hold of it, gradually stood up, and was relieved that the robber fly stayed on for the ride. After I held the rock out in front of me and was about to try for a few more pictures, the fly moved around a little, then walked off the rock and onto my hand. Robber flies are fiercely carnivorous, “robbing” other insects by pouncing on and devouring them, so I wondered whether this handy visitor might suddenly take a nip out of my skin. But no, the robber fly remained friendly, as polite a digital guest as any nature photographer could want.

For a classic three-quarter view of the subject with a better look at its characteristic “moustache,” click below.

If you’re interested in photography as a craft, the newly added point 30 in About My Techniques applies to these two portraits.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 17, 2019 at 4:49 AM

45 Responses

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  1. Very nice images, Steve! I often wonder at nature when opportunities like this happen. Eighteen years ago, I photographed a mountain boomer (common collared lizard) in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, that was sunning itself on a rock. These lizards are extremely difficult to capture with the camera because they dart away quickly! As I got closer, I wondered if it was ill, as it only slightly moved its head. My husband got close enough to remove some dried grass from around the rock, and still it didn’t move. It changed colors, and lifted its head a bit, but remained there for about five minutes before surprising us by darting off quickly into the crevice of some rocks behind it. It was apparent there wasn’t a thing wrong with the lizard… for some reason, we were allowed the gift of the meeting and close observation.


    April 17, 2019 at 7:10 AM

    • I appreciate your story of a similar encounter with a different sort of critter. We can only wonder why individuals like these two were so well behaved (from a human point of view). Have you ever shown any pictures of that lizard? If your experience was 18 years ago, it’s possible, even likely, you were still using film and might not have digitized the photos.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 17, 2019 at 7:21 AM

      • I’m sure I still have them… somewhere. I’m sure they are digital, but not of great quality. Still, it’s the awesome experience that I remember.


        April 17, 2019 at 9:32 AM

  2. Excellent pix and story to go with today’s topic! The robber fly didn’t make you itch when it walked onto you? Are you saving the other pix for another article in the near future? This kind of story’s even better than ones when a photographer spots an unexpected visual treat when later reviewing one or more pix.


    April 17, 2019 at 8:38 AM

    • It’s fun to tell a story, isn’t it? As you point out, in this case I knew what was happening; I’ve also had my share of discoveries on a computer screen after the fact.

      While my skin easily reacts to lots of things, fortunately in this case I had no adverse reaction whatsoever from the robber fly. After the two pictures in today’s post I’m not planning to show more; none of the others I took came better, although the first ones showed natural surroundings that didn’t include Mount Pinky.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 17, 2019 at 9:09 AM

  3. Very neat closeup. This looks like a pretty spiky, bristling sort of customer, and you describe him as a fierce carnivore, so I’m glad he turned out to be so well-behaved for his portraits.

    Robert Parker

    April 17, 2019 at 8:51 AM

    • My understanding is that all those bristles, like the ones on spiders’ legs, help the predator hold on to its prey. Maybe the robber fly felt that a kindred spirit was sporting those other bristles it was nestling on.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 17, 2019 at 9:13 AM

  4. And you weren’t afraid of picking up the “dragon”?! 😀


    April 17, 2019 at 10:02 AM

  5. A very dandy fellow. That is quite an apparatus on his derriere.


    April 17, 2019 at 1:46 PM

  6. That is so cool! Happy that you were able to get such a great closeup. What a neat critter.

    3C Style

    April 17, 2019 at 3:40 PM

    • I’ve been seeing robber flies for years but I never thought I’d see one on my hand.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 17, 2019 at 4:52 PM

      • I just love those unexpected moments in life! 😍

        3C Style

        April 17, 2019 at 7:35 PM

        • The more nature photographers put themselves out there, the greater the likelihood of something unexpected happening.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 17, 2019 at 10:06 PM

          • Exactly so. At the Rockport cemetery, I found both white bluebonnets, a pinwheel-like coreopsis, and a fasciated larkspur. Sometimes what’s assumed to be rarity is simply lack of exposure.


            April 18, 2019 at 9:34 AM

            • I think you’re right that it’s often lack of exposure. On the other hand, four-nerve daisies are very common in Austin for almost the whole year, and for 20 years I’ve rarely gone out in nature without seeing one or a bunch of them, yet last week for the first time I saw a fasciated four-nerve daisy.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 18, 2019 at 10:04 AM

  7. I didn’t know there was such a fly. Have never seen one, either. Thanks for the pics and info.

    Jenny Meadows

    April 17, 2019 at 4:54 PM

  8. Love his hairy legs–great capture!


    April 17, 2019 at 5:47 PM

  9. I read that these dispose of their prey by injecting a toxin that dissolves the ‘innards’ of the unfortunate victim. It’s the same technique used by the giant water bug — a creature I was lucky enough to find this spring. This robber fly and the water bug are equally interesting; I can’t quite bring myself to say attractive.

    I’m still in awe of your ability to employ Point #30. I’ve tried and tried, and just can’t manage it. I may just need more practice, since my hand’s strong enough to hold the camera, even with the 100mm lens attached.


    April 18, 2019 at 9:41 AM

    • Yes, I read about the toxin to dissolve a prey’s innards. For all of a robber fly’s ferocity, it doesn’t actually chew up its victim the way an insect like a mantis does. Similarly, you’ve probably observed that the common housefly has a big proboscis for slurping up liquid nutrients, the only kind it can ingest.

      Holding the camera with two hands offers more stability than holding it with one—and many would say that using a tripod is preferable to using two hands. In a case like this robber fly, one-handed was the only way to go. I’m glad I can still get away with that technique. We’ll see how much longer my body keeps making it possible.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2019 at 10:40 AM

      • There’s a metaphor to ponder: time as a robber fly, dissolving and slurping up our physical and mental abilities. I suppose we can’t swat time away like a fly, but I’m willing to give it a try.


        April 18, 2019 at 10:44 AM

    • ew!


      April 21, 2019 at 12:06 PM

  10. When an insect does not move right away, it typically does not move at all . . . . because it is dead.


    April 21, 2019 at 12:08 PM

    • I’ve sometimes found that to be true. Here I knew from the outset, because of small movements, that this one was alive.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 21, 2019 at 2:35 PM

  11. That 3/4 shot is excellent. I really enjoy the bearded look these flies have.

    Steve Gingold

    April 22, 2019 at 6:04 PM

  12. If only you had known: April 30th was World Robber Fly Day. You could have thrown a party!


    May 1, 2019 at 7:00 AM

    • A party would’ve been above and beyond the call of duty. Had I known, though, I might well have scheduled the post for April 30.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 1, 2019 at 7:53 AM

  13. I love his mustache! Very nice closeup and how thoughtful a subject he was for you. Not so for my son who held a katydid for me this week in Round Rock to shoot, which bit his finger with such force as to draw blood.


    June 7, 2019 at 9:33 AM

    • I’ve never heard of a katydid biting a person, much less drawing blood.
      If I’d known you were in Round Rock we could’ve reconnoitered, or at least connoitered.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 7, 2019 at 7:31 PM

      • Pretty strong mandibles, that little green guy! Last time we visited, my other son got stung on the toe by a 1mm scorpion. Always something bite-y sting-y in the hill country. (For me, chiggers.)

        Sadly for visiting with other Austinite’s, the itinerary was full of family. If I get back there again before summer’s end, however, I’ll certainly let you know.


        June 7, 2019 at 8:53 PM

        • Okay, do let us know if you get back this way.
          I’m with you when it comes to chiggers, which are my greatest bane in nature in central Texas.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 7, 2019 at 8:56 PM

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