Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for the ‘insects’ Category


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Exuviae on Leaf 6422

Entomologists (biologists who study insects) use the Latin plural exuviae to designate the cast-off exoskeleton of an insect that has molted. While I was photographing in a shaded area along Bull Creek on July 7th I came across the exuviae of what I take to be a cicada (genus Tibicen). Sloughed-off “skins” can be as dirty as the one you see here, but then if you hung out on a leaf for weeks on end you might get pretty dirty too (or should I say ugly dirty rather than pretty dirty?).

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 22, 2014 at 5:56 AM

Drama in black, chartreuse, pink and yellow

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Click for greater clarity.

On July 25, 2011, a year and a day ago, I went to the prairie restoration at Austin’s old Mueller Airport. At one point during a walk around the pond there, I sat down to photograph some flowers of sensitive briar, Mimosa roemeriana. Briars these plants surely are, with recurved prickles that have a knack for embedding themselves in the skin of people who handle them incautiously. And it isn’t only people’s skin that’s sensitive: touch the compound leaves of one of these low-growing plants, and watch the little leaflets fold shut within seconds.

But a drama other than the closing of leaflets caught my attention once I’d sat down. On the underside of this flower globe I noticed two tiny chartreuse caterpillars, and I saw that a couple of ants had noticed them, too. The ants ran up and down, often treading on and continuing over the little caterpillars, occasionally grabbing at them as if trying to pull them away. Perhaps the ants looked forward to a meal, or perhaps they were defending their territory. I don’t know enough about ant behavior to say, and although I watched and took pictures for a while, nothing conclusive happened. Eventually, say anticlimactically if you wish, I continued on my way.

UPDATE: See the explanatory comment below by Spider Joe Lapp.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 26, 2012 at 6:04 AM

A world in a drop of resin

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Click for more detail and greater sharpness.

Yesterday you saw a large ant that was happily free, but I also referred to a post featuring two small ants that met their demise when they became entombed in a drop of sunflower resin. Because I photographed the free ant way back on August 3 of last year, I decided to look through my archives to see what else I might have taken pictures of on that outing along Bull Creek. It turns out that another bit of resin, this time curiously shaped and positioned, had figured prominently in that August 3 session. As you see here, the drop was at the very tip of one of the sunflower’s long and still partly green bracts.

From my vantage point beneath the resin drop, the larger portion of it looked to me like a miniature globe of a planet with brown landmasses and blue seas—except that the blue was from the sky and the brown was from the drying bracts of the sunflower. Because the resin drop acted as a lens, the positions of things were reversed, with the brown mass at the top of the tiny globe coming from the earth-bound sunflower, and the blue beneath the brown “continent” coming from the clear sky overhead. There are likewise regions of blue and brown in the portion of the drop that extends downward, and if you’d like to see all these details more clearly, click on the icon below for an enlargement:

Of the roughly 250 photographs that have appeared in these pages so far, the last two have been among those with the smallest amount of area in focus. Yesterday it was just the ant and a part of the bract it was on; today only the resin is clearly focused, and that’s most likely what your eyes were first drawn to.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 19, 2012 at 4:57 AM

Ant undaunted

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Click for greater clarity.

Oh profligate me: I take a lot more pictures than I can possibly show you here. Now that we’re in a relatively bleak part of the year, I’ll supplement current pictures—which aren’t coming quite as fast and furious, thanks to the season—with some from the past year that I never managed to squeeze in, of which there are many.

Back on August 7th I showed a photograph of two ants that met their demise when they became entombed in a drop of sunflower resin. Most ants, especially the bigger ones, don’t suffer that fate. Here’s a large reddish one I photographed on the tip of a sunflower leaf alongside Bull Creek on August 3 (on the same outing that produced the picture of the bald cypress “rainbow”). Ants often move quickly on plants, as this one was doing; if that’s not the way the photograph makes it look, it’s because I used a shutter speed of 1/500 sec. to stop most of the motion. Even so, you can see a bit of movement in the ends of the ant’s antennae and its forelegs.

For those interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 2, 5, 7, and 18 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s picture.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 18, 2012 at 5:09 AM

They’re back, too.

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Monarch butterfly on rain-lily; click for greater detail.

The last time I said “They’re back,” I meant the many grackles massing on power lines in my neighborhood at sundown each day. Now I mean monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, though so far this autumn I’ve noticed only a few of them. In other years I’ve watched them in large numbers gathering nectar from goldenrod and Maximilian sunflowers, but the one in today’s photograph is the first I can recall seeing attracted to rain-lilies, Cooperia drummondii, which far outnumbered butterflies in Austin a couple of weeks ago.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 1, 2011 at 5:41 AM

Hemipenthes scylla

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Hemipenthes scylla bee fly on broomweed; click for more detail.

Hemipenthes scylla: that’s what entomologists call this little bee fly that characteristically hovers and darts back and forth for a long time before making up its mind to settle somewhere. This particular bee fly—one of many of its species that I’ve noticed in Austin recently—finally landed on some broomweed, Amphiachyris dracunculoides, on October 7, when I returned after some brief rain to the place where I’d photographed the gumweed shown in yesterday’s post. Valerie Bugh, who was good enough to identify this small (probably not even half an inch from wingtip to wingtip) insect for me, wrote: “There are a lot of different bee flies active now — their larvae are parasitoids of other insects so I guess the drought wasn’t too bad for them this summer.” In contrast, although I’ve been seeing small and isolated broomweed plants blossoming for a couple of months, the drought seems to have suppressed the large colonies that in other autumns have turned whole fields yellow-green with their thousands of tiny flower heads seen from afar.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 23, 2011 at 5:35 AM

Clammyweed revisited—and visited

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Two-tailed swallowtail; click for greater detail.

Those of you who have been subscribers to this blog since the last week of June may recall the photographs of clammyweed, Polanisia dodecandra, taken from the side and the top. For whatever reason, I’ve noticed more of this drought-defying species in 2011 than ever before. My latest encounter with it was just yesterday, when I found some growing in the completely dry bed of Barton Creek in south Austin. As I was looking at the plant, a two-tailed swallowtail butterfly, Papilio multicaudata, began fluttering about as it gathered nectar from the clammyweed flowers.* Swallowtails are among the largest of all butterflies that we have in this part of the world, with a wingspan of from 3 to 5 inches, and I’ve usually found them to be quite skittish. This one, though, probably eager to get whatever nourishment it can during the drought, let me get close and take lots of pictures. Occasionally a too-sudden movement of my camera startled it away, but after flying about for a while it always came back.

Note—if you can take your eyes off this attractive butterfly—that the clammyweed is satisfying insects in at least two ways: the destructive way of whatever ate all those little round holes out of the leaves at the left, and of course the non-destructive way of the swallowtail.


* When I posted this entry I misidentified the butterfly as an eastern tiger swallowtail. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a two-tailed swallowtail, but as you can see from the first comment on this post, Shelly pointed me in the right direction. Thanks to Shelly, and also to Val Bugh for further confirmation. Live and learn.

© Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 22, 2011 at 5:54 AM


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Stilt bugs; click for more detail.

Following yesterday’s post about downy gaura, Gaura parviflora, Pixilated2 commented that she uses a cultivar of Gaura lindheimeri as a “trap” to entice aphids away from her garden plants. She asked whether I’ve seen aphids on downy gaura in the wild, and I replied that I don’t believe I have. The insects that I’ve most often found on downy gaura are stilt bugs, so called for their long legs. Valerie Bugh was good enough to identify this mating pair as probably belonging to the genus Jalysus.

During a slide show that I gave to the Highland Lakes chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas in Marble Falls two days ago, a man asked whether I ever put an artificial background behind a subject to make it stand out; I answered that I never do. If you’re interested in learning how I obtained the natural but almost completely neutral background you see in today’s photograph, you can read points 1 and especially 2 in About My Techniques.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 19, 2011 at 6:00 AM


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Click for greater clarity.


At Meadow Lake Park in Round Rock, while I was photographing marsh fleabane flowers and the shoots of very young black willow trees on August 9, I noticed that a lot of the reddish shoots of the willows were covered with a white substance. Eventually I found a shoot that had an insect still on it. Valerie Bugh was good enough to identify it as a planthopper in the genus Oecleus. She added: “There’s a good chance that it was laying eggs, as all that waxy stuff is something that they use to cover their eggs with. I’m sure that individual was not responsible, though, for all that stuff!” To give you a sense of scale, I’ll add that the planthopper shown here was at most half an inch long. I’ll also add that these insects are called planthoppers because they can hop a large distance in a single bound and by so doing disappear from the sight of a would-be predator, or of a photographer who hoped to take more pictures.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 11, 2011 at 5:41 AM

Not of any use

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Wasp on Euphorbia marginata in Brushy Creek Lake Park. Click for more detail.

“They’re just weeds,” said the employee of the parks department when I stopped him and asked why the large colony of snow-on-the-mountain plants had been mowed down. “They’re no use to anything.”

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 29, 2011 at 6:01 AM

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