Portraits of Wildflowers

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Syrphid self-portrait

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Don’t let the title mislead you. It wasn’t a syrphid fly that did a self-portrait, but me, inadvertently, when leaning in to take a picture of this hoverfly (Toxomerus marginatus) on a Texas yellow star (Lindheimera texana) a couple of miles from home on April 5th. If you’re having trouble seeing my reflection on the thorax in the main picture, below is an enlargement. These tiny flies are about a quarter of an inch (6mm) long.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 13, 2020 at 4:32 AM

Syrphid fly on buttercup

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Tiny Syrphid Fly on Buttercup 3680

In several places at McKinney Falls State Park on March 13th I found flowering buttercups, Ranunculus spp., and on this one a syrphid fly only about a quarter of an inch (6mm) long. That’s one tiny fly.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 7, 2014 at 5:58 AM

Two syrphid flies

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Click for greater size and clarity.

The last time you saw a syrphid fly here was about a month ago, in a picture of one with large red eyes on an agarita flower. On March 21, as I was walking along a trail in McKinney Falls State Park in southeast Austin, I got down low to photograph some spiderworts. It was only then that I noticed these double-decker syrphid flies, which were at most a third of an inch long. I never saw any motion from the smaller fly on top, but the one on the bottom kept busily working away at the anthers of the spiderwort. From time to time this Atlas of a syrphid fly flew to a different location on the flower, carrying its impassive but impassioned mate along with it.

I though you might find this picture of two flies fooling around appropriate for April Fool’s Day. No fooling.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 1, 2012 at 5:38 AM

Ageratina havanensis does its thing

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A great floral attractor of insects in the fall is Ageratina havanensis, known as fragrant mist flower, shrubby boneset, and thoroughwort, and apparently in Spanish as the barba de viejo (old man’s beard) that corresponds to the fuzzier stage the inflorescence takes on after it goes to seed.

Click to enlarge.

The insect shown above working these flowers in my neighborhood on November 2nd is a syrphid fly, which you can see gains some protection by mimicking a bee. The stray seeds with silk attached came from the adjacent poverty weed bush that graciously put in an appearance here a couple of weeks ago. Below you’ll find a much larger and more colorful insect that was visiting the flowers, a queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 4, 2018 at 4:56 AM

Eschscholtz’s buttercup

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When I came across this wildflower in Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park on August 29, 2017, I knew from the resemblance to native buttercups in Austin that I was looking at a relative. A little research has led me to believe that the flower in Alberta was an Eschscholtz’s buttercup, Ranunculus eschscholtzii. Other names for it are subalpine buttercup and spruce-fir buttercup.

This someone with an sch in his name has almost never encountered a name with two consecutive occurrences of sch. If you’d like to know more about the double-sch man, you’re welcome to read an article on Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz. Look near the end for an unexpected connection between that early-19th-century naturalist and mid-20th-century nuclear weapons.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 12, 2018 at 4:57 AM

To bee or not to bee…

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When is a bee not a bee? When it’s a fly masquerading as a bee and presumably gaining protection against predators that would fear the sting of a real bee. Thanks to Bill Dean, via BugGuide.net, for identifying this syrphid fly as a male Copestylum tamaulipanum. Today’s picture, which is from August 30 along US 183 in Cedar Park, also gives you a pleasant glance back at the flowers of Euphorbia marginata, called snow-on-the-mountain because of its white-margined bracts. For a zoomed-in look at the syrphid fly, click the excerpt below.


© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 18, 2016 at 5:00 AM

Brown on yellow, what a fellow

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Fly on Navajo Tea Flower Head 0470

On a Navajo tea flower head (Thelesperma simplicifolium) I found this fly, which didn’t mind the close presence of my macro lens and stayed put while I took pictures. From the people at BugGuide.net I learned that this is a kind of syrphid fly, Copestylum avidum, and that the way the eyes touch at the top of the head signals that this one is a male. For a closeup of the insect’s compound eye, click the excerpt below.

Fly on Navajo Tea Flower Head 0470A

The date was April 8 and the place was the Doeskin Ranch section of the National Wildlife Refuge in Burnet County.

Update: BugGuide has also identified the nymph you saw three days ago as being a katydid in the subfamily Phaneropterinae:

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 24, 2016 at 5:19 AM


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Genus Palpada Fly on Snow-on-the-Mountain 1190

The first day of August conveniently coincided with my first sighting of snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) flowers for 2014—just barely, that is. You see, for each of these half-inch-across “flowers,” only the central part that’s inside the five little greenish bean-shaped lobes is actually a flower, and in this specimen those flowers hadn’t quite opened yet. And if we can stack illusion on illusion, from a distance even the plant’s much larger leaves often get mistaken for petals because of their prominent white margins.

In a different and seemingly purposeful deception, the insect visitor that you might take to be a bee is really a fly mimicking a bee, the better to make predators wary that it might sting even though it can’t. From pictures I’ve seen online, this fly appears to be in the genus Palpada, whose members are known as syrphid flies or flower flies.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 11, 2014 at 5:50 AM

A field trip to Bastrop State Park

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Tradescantia subacaulis Flowers with Raindrops 1630

The photograph of a dwarf dandelion in yesterday morning’s post was from an April 27th field trip to Bastrop State Park led by botanist Bill Carr. Bastrop lies about 30 miles (50 km) east of Austin, not far as drivers reckon distances, but quite a different world when it comes to plants. The ground is often sandy there, and as a result many species grow in Bastrop that don’t grow in nearby Austin. Today’s post and a bunch that follow—a whopping three weeks’ worth—will show you some of the things we saw on that field trip, beginning with a few of the ones that don’t grow in Austin and were new to me.

The picture above shows Tradescantia subacaulis, a species of spiderwort. The subdued tonality of the photograph and the drops of water on the flowers tell you that we had some drizzle early in the field trip, but fortunately it didn’t last long. If you’d like to compare the color of the kind of spiderwort I’m used to seeing in Austin, you can, and as a bonus there’s a pair of double-decker syrphid flies in it for you.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 8, 2014 at 5:58 AM

Purple bindweed flower on the wane

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Click for greater clarity.

Two posts ago you saw three fresh flowers of purple bindweed, a species that as a dutiful member of the morning-glory family usually opens its flowers in the morning and lets them wither in the heat of the afternoon. The puckering shown here, a version of which you saw from the side late last year, is typical of that fading away. This view goes back to June 21 of 2011, a year in which, despite the horrendous drought, I found purple bindweed thriving in many places in central Texas, as if there were no drought at all.

For more information about Ipomoea cordatotriloba, including a state-clickable map showing where in the southeastern United States it grows, you can visit the USDA website. For those of you interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 3, 7 and 8 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph.


Posted on today’s date in 2011: a pretty little syrphid fly on a camphorweed flower head.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 13, 2012 at 6:03 AM

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