Among the most elegant of the Texas disturbance and weedy wildflowers is the Texas Skeleton Plant (Lygodesmia texana) also known as the Purple Dandelion, Flowering Straw, or Milk Pink. It surprises many of us that the skeleton flower is in the “daisy” family. However, its sparse number of central ray flowers comprise a much smaller flower head than most daisies. Like many daisies, the milky sap of the stem may have medicinal applications. The rather anemic-appearing stem belies the gorgeous flowers of slim, curved sepals and ray flowers. Leaves are thin and appear near the base such that the stem is left bare and branched at odd angles–reminding us of a skeleton! This photograph was taken in Falls county, central Texas.
The Doris Longwing (or simply The Doris) (Heliconius doris) is a common and widespread species found from Mexico to Bolivia, and sporatically in the southern United States. Heliconians are delicate species with high-contrast colors. This individual was photographed in the Houston Butterfly House, and is perched peacefully on a flower head of Ixora (Ixora sp.).
Dragonflies are arguably the most acrobatic of all airborne insects. You can count on a summertime visit to a pond to reveal a variety of colors skimming the water surface and battling each other for territories and mates. It’s quite a attention grabbing show, but the festive nature of their acrobatics may belie their voracious predation on most anything they an catch. And they do it in mid-air! As shown in this photograph, dragonflies are perchers and not walkers. Their six legs are best at forming a collecting basket allowing the dragonfly to scoop up prey on the wing, and immediately bring it to powerful jaws. Their bodies include thousands of sensitive hairs detecting any and all wisps of air movement. And those colorful, refractive compound eyes can see in a full 360-degrees of direction. They don’t miss a thing! This photograph was taken in central Florida and shows the Blue Dasher male, Pachydiplax longipennis, perched in the middle of its territory.
Sally Lightfoot crabs (Grapsus grapsus) are among the most common crabs along the western coast of the Americas. Also known as the ‘Red Rock Crab’, the Sally Lightfoot is arguably the most charismatic of all crabs due to its extraordinary colors and memorable common name. Charles Darwin collected these crabs on his epic journey to the Galapagos islands, and tourists continue to snap photographs of their reds and blues against the dark lava shorelines of the Ecuadorian islands. As you might guess from their name, they are extremely quick. Their abundance alongside marine iguanas make them appear deceptively approachable. But one step closer and they disappear in the blink of an eye! No doubt this quickness allows these highly visible creatures to avoid predators. This photograph was taken on the shores of Isabella Island in the Galapagos Islands, a territory of Ecuador.