Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘insect

Visiting nerve-ray

with 27 comments

On the first day of May this Tetragonotheca texana (known by the strange name nerve-ray) had two simultaneous morning visitors. Whether the non-me visitor was a non-bee. i.e. a bee-fly, I’m not sure. Nerve-ray is one of the few yellow daisy-type flowers that’s fragrant. Where the conventional wisdom is to stop and smell the roses, I always stop and bend down to enjoy the subtle fragrance of nerve-ray flowers.

Another colloquial name for nerve-ray is square-bud daisy. The starkly lit portrait below explains that name.

I’ll grant you that this bud looks a bit off from being exactly square—hey, nature’s not perfect. For that matter, neither is language. As nice and succinct as square is, English doesn’t have a simple word to designate ‘any four-sided closed figure in a plane.’ English has occasionally used Greek-derived tetragon, following the same pattern in the familiar pentagon and hexagon. Nowadays, though, English is pretty much stuck with the unwieldy five-syllable Latin-derived quadrilateral. If only we could follow the model of German, a related language, which has Viereck, literally ‘four-edge(s),’ and call a quadrilateral a fouredge or a fourside.

Speaking of quadrilaterals, here’s something interesting you may not know, or if you did learn it in high school geometry have probably forgotten. Take any quadrilateral you like, whether convex, concave, or even with two of its sides crossing each other. Connect the midpoints of the four sides (going in order from each side to the next) with straight line segments and you’re guaranteed to end up with a parallelogram. That’s just how the universe is. As a picture is often worth a lot of words—some say a thousand, others a myriad—you’re welcome to look at an example with a convex quadrilateral.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 11, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Green and red will knock you dead

with 56 comments

Okay, so I don’t really expect today’s picture to kill you, but look at the bold contrast between this katydid nymph (I think) and the saturated red of the cedar sage flowers (Salvia roemeriana) it was on. This picture comes from April 25th in my neighborhood.

* * * * * * * * *

I’d like to point you to a draft version of an important article entitled “The Empowering of the American Mind,” by Greg Lukianoff, co-author of the book The Coddling of the American Mind. This draft puts forth 10 principles, the first of which is that there must be no compelled speech, thought, or belief. The article includes quotations from various court decisions, including the following three from West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, United States Supreme Court, 1943.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

[F]reedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

And from Greg Lukianoff comes this: “Any ideology that cannot be questioned is indistinguishable from fundamentalist religion.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 4, 2021 at 4:43 AM

Yellow on yellow

with 49 comments

Probably the wildflower I’ve seen the most in Austin over the past few weeks is Thelesperma filifolium, known as greenthread because of its thread-like leaves. Unless you get up close, though, what you’re most likely to notice is the yellow of the flowers. On April 20th I set out to photograph a nice little greenthread colony I’d spotted a day earlier that had sprung up at a road construction site. For some of my portraits I used a wide aperture and exposed for the dark center of a flower head, knowing that the flower heads in the background would come out with little detail and probably overexposed. It’s an aesthetic that questions whether there can ever be too much bright yellow.

On one flower head I found a cucumber beetle, Diabrotica undecimpunctata*, at the tip of a ray, giving a second sense to this post’s title of “Yellow on yellow.”

* Latin undecim means literally ‘one-ten,’ i.e. ‘one plus ten,’ or eleven. This species of beetle has 11 spots.

* * * * * * * * *

Did you know that Austin has recently been the fastest growing metropolitan statistical area in the United States? The second fastest is Raleigh (North Carolina), where my oldest friend in the world now lives; I think we met when we were two or three years old. We grew up in Nassau County (New York), which during some of our years there I seem to remember was the fastest growing county in the country. And I’ll hasten to add that fast is one of those strange English words that can mean opposite things. If you run fast you move quickly, but if you stand fast you don’t move at all. Can you think of any other self-contradictory words?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 28, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Huisache daisy colony

with 18 comments

Botanist Bill Carr says that husiache daisies, Amblyolepis setigera, are a western species that reaches the eastern edge of its range in Travis County (which includes Austin), and that they’re uncommon here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any huisache daisies within an hour or two of home. On April 9th I came across a pretty colony of them flowering in what was either far eastern Burnet County or far western Travis County. The few violet-colored flowers mixed in were prairie verbenas, Glandularia bipinnatifida. Speaking of which, in my neighborhood the previous morning I’d found one of those with spittlebug froth on it.

Did you know that the United States Congress has designated April 2021 “National Native Plant Month”? Here’s a letter about that from the Native Plant Society of Texas.

April 14, 2021

Senator Rob Portman
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Senator Mazie Hirono
109 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Re: April 2021 National Native Plant Month

Dear Senator Portman and Senator Hirono:

On behalf of the Native Plant Society of Texas and its 35 local chapters, I am writing to express our thanks for your joint resolution S. 109 designating April 2021 as National Native Plant Month. We are pleased to join all the other conservation organizations, including other state native plant societies, that supported your resolution that was approved unanimously by the Senate on March 26, 2021.

Your resolution stated that there are more than 17,000 native plant species in the United States which are beneficial and part of our natural heritage. Texas, which has over 5000 species of native plants and 11 different ecoregions, is one of the most biologically diverse states because of its size and geography. However, as your resolution clearly stated, there are challenges ahead due to habitat loss, degradation, and invasive species.

Our mission statement responds to the challenges with these words: “To promote research, conservation and utilization of native plants and plant habitats through education, outreach and example”. Through these efforts, we strive to protect the native plant heritage of Texas and preserve it for future generations. We are a non-profit organization, run by volunteers and funded by membership dues, individual and corporate contributions, and foundation grants.

Thank you for your authorship of the resolution designating April 2021 as “National Native Plant Month”. Our Executive Board will definitely inform all of our local chapters of your successful resolution and encourage them to incorporate your observations in their programs in April.

Respectfully submitted,

Clarence E. Reed
VP-Advocacy & Affiliations
Native Plant Society of Texas

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 19, 2021 at 4:43 AM

A visit to Bastrop

with 20 comments

On March 26th we visited Bastrop State Park for the first time since last fall. Almost 10 years ago a disastrous fire destroyed the majority of trees in the park, and the landscape is still full of burned dead trunks, both standing and fallen. The charred pine trunk in the photograph above was on the ground. I don’t know why the resin in the upper part of the picture picked up so much blue.

In contrast to that log, take this opening flower of plains wild indigo, Baptisia bracteata var. leucophaea, a species that makes its debut here today.

If you’re wondering what a full inflorescence looks like, the last picture will show you,
complete with the kind of insect that I assume was eating the flowers.

Four posts back I noted that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense.” I said that’s a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense are easily shown to be untrue. In that post and the next and the next and yesterday’s I gave examples of “common sense” leading to incorrect conclusions. Here’s another example.

Every person has a birthday. A year consists of 365 days—or 366 if you want to count February 29, which occurs only about a fourth as often as other days, thanks to leap year—so there are 365 or 366 possible birthdays. You’re naturally curious, and you get to wondering about groups of people, and how likely or unlikely it is that at least two people in a group have the same birthday (the day, not the year). In particular, you get to wondering how large a group of randomly chosen people it would take for there to be a 50-50 chance, i.e. 50%, that at least two people in the group share a birthday.

Many folks would answer that “common sense” tells them they’d need a group half as big as 366, namely 183 people, for there to be a 50-50 chance of a matching birthday. The truth is that with a group of only 23 randomly chosen people in it there’s about a 50% chance two or more people in the group will have matching birthdays. (I won’t go into the math, though it’s not difficult). By contrast, in a group of 183 people there’s a virtual certainty of at least one matching birthday.

You could also turn things around and ask how likely it is that in a group of 23 people there’ll be at least one pair of matching birthdays. Many folks might pull out a calculator, find out that 23 is about 6% of 365, and conclude by “common sense” that there’d be only a 6% chance of a pair of matching birthdays. You’ve already heard that in fact there’s about a 50% chance.

Here’s a way to confirm this without trying to rely on “common sense.” Stand on a busy street and ask people passing by what their birthday is. Mark the dates on a yearly calendar to keep track of them and see if there’s a match. If necessary, keep going until you’ve asked 23 people and still haven’t found a match. Then repeat the experiment a bunch of times. With enough repetitions, you should find that about half of the time you’ll get a matching birthday pair.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 12, 2021 at 4:22 AM

Great purple hairstreak butterfly and Mexican plum blossoms

with 32 comments

On March 15th at McKinney Falls State Park many flying insects were drawn to the heady blossoms of a Mexican plum tree (Prunus mexicana). Among those insects was a great purple hairstreak butterfly (Atlides halesus). You can see that despite its common name, it doesn’t look purple. You can also see in the second picture the dense multitude of blossoms that adorned the tree.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 23, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Texas has many things inimical to human skin

with 25 comments

On November 20th I worked my way into the median on E. Howard Lane to photograph some fruit-bearing possumhaws and yaupons (Ilex decidua and vomitoria, respectively). On a couple of the trees I noticed several furry little tan or grey bundles that I later learned aren’t bundles of joy, at least not where human skin is concerned. Fortunately I didn’t touch any of the critters, which bugguide.net has identified as Megalopyge opercularis, known as the southern flannel moth caterpillar, puss caterpillar, asp, and perrito (Spanish for ‘puppy’). The Bugguide entry for this species includes a cautionary note: “Occasionally, in outbreak years, puss caterpillars are sufficiently numerous to defoliate some trees…. However, their main importance is medical. In Texas, they have been so numerous in some years that schools in San Antonio in 1923 and Galveston in 1951 were closed temporarily because of stings to children….” You’re welcome to read a more recent account of envenomations.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 23, 2020 at 4:18 AM

Still more from Gault Lane at Burnet Road on October 11th

with 24 comments

⇧ Huisache daisy, Amblyolepis setigera, with a small insect.

⇧ Aquatic plants at sunrise.

⇧ Cardinal flowers, Lobelia cardinalis.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 12, 2020 at 4:32 AM

Bumblerod

with 27 comments

As the second yellow-on-yellow picture in two days, behold a bumblee (Bombus sp.) visiting goldenrod flowers (Solidago sp.) along Ross Road in Del Valle. The date was October 10, and the place was one I’d never worked at before, so you could say I had beginner’s luck. I could reply that I’ve been beginning my photography for more than 50 years now.

UPDATE: Robert Kamper (see comment below) has presented evidence that this is really a carpenter bee and not a bumblebee. I’ve left the original post’s title rather than changing it to something like “Carpentrod.”

Instead of a quotation today, how about listening to a two-piano dueling version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous “Flight of the Bumblebee”?

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 28, 2020 at 4:38 AM

Estigmene acrea

with 32 comments

“What’s that white thing?” That’s what I wondered when I glimpsed a little white area on one of several distant narrowleaf sumpweed* plants (Iva angustifolia) that were flowering in my neighborhood on September 29th. After I walked closer I saw that it was a moth**, which I take to be Estigmene acrea, known as the saltmarsh moth. An even closer look revealed that on the sumpweed it had laid some tiny pearl-like eggs, several clusters of which you can discern in the photograph. The three larger round yellowish areas interspersed across the bottom of the picture were out-of-focus broomweed flowers (Amphiachyris dracunculoides).

* Sumpweeds (which you might be surprised to learn that botanists put in the sunflower family) are close relatives of ragweeds. Like those better-known plants, sumpweeds’ airborne pollen at this time of year causes hayfever in susceptible people, including this photographer who sometimes sneezes his way through the autumn landscape for the sake of pictures from nature.

** Modern English moth developed from Old English moððe, where the ð represented the sound we now spell th. People must have found it troublesome—as we would—to pronounce two th‘s in a row and therefore dropped one of them (along with the supporting vowel that followed, thereby reducing the word to a single syllable).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 8, 2020 at 4:43 AM

%d bloggers like this: