We've trained puppies to "come," "sit" and "heel."
We've trained an African grey parrot to say "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty! Meow!"
We've trained the kitty to ignore the parrot.
But how do you train a praying mantis?
Our resident praying mantis, the lean green machine, conceals himself in the African blue basil. That's been home, sweet home for the past week. Before that, it was the lantana, catmint, Mexican sunflower and cosmos. He goes where the bees are and the bees are now all over the African blue basil.
We cannot create a "No fly zone." We cannot ban the bees from traveling. And we cannot ban the praying mantis from doing what he does best: ambushing prey and eating them.
Lately, however, he's allowed us to photograph him in the early morning, before his bee breakfast.
He does not respond to "Say cheese!"
Nor does he respond to "Say bee!" Or "Say Apis mellifera!"
You cannot train a praying mantis.
As fall fades and winter beckons, we're still seeing skipper butterflies foraging in cosmos, lantana and other flowers.
Lepidopterans study 'em but we just admire 'em.
Distinguishing characteristics of skippers include "clubs" on the tips of their antennae, and those huge, compound eyes.
The skippers (family Hesperiidae) "are a worldwide family of about 3500 species that appear to be 'sister' to the rest of the 'true butterflies,'" says butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, on his website. "The clubs on the tips of the antennae are usually hooked. Our California skippers fall into two or three subfamilies: the spread-wing skippers (Pyrginae), the folded-wing skippers (Hesperiinae), and the Heteropterinae."
The butterfly is one of the most popular of tattoes. Odds are, however, you'll see a graceful monarch or a striking western tiger swallowtail inked on someone's skin, not a common skipper.
Ask.com, when asked "What is the meaning of a butterfly tattoo?", replied (British version): "The butterfly tattoo symbolises grace and beauty. The beautiful patterns and colours on the wings of the butterflies are undeniably attractive. The connotation and symbolism of butterfly tattoo designs is as well related to psych and spirituality."
"Butterfly" means "psyche" or "soul" in Greek.
Next time you see a skipper, think of it as a "soul" on a flower. A clubbed soul.
Oh, the fun-loving, sun-loving cosmos.
A native of Mexico and a member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae, this plant brightens many a garden, attracting such pollinators as honey bees, bumble bees, sweat bees, hover flies and butterflies. Its common name and genus are the same: cosmos!
As the autumn days grow colder, its color seems to grow bolder. The vivid pinks, glorious whites, and cranberry reds are a delight to see. Some of the daisylike petals are striped like candy canes.
Last Sunday was a pollinator-perfect day for the cosmos planted in the Avant Garden, a community garden at the corner of First and D streets in Benicia. Insects couldn't seem to get enough of them.
"Spanish priests grew cosmos in their mission gardens in Mexico," according to a Texas A&M website. "The evenly placed petals led them to christen the flower, 'Cosmos,' the Greek word for harmony or ordered universe."
The website lists "The Top 10 Reasons Everyone Should be Growing Cosmos." They include easy to grow, best annual for hot, dry locations, best annual for poor soils and the like. And, it's a self-seeding annual that can be used for floral arrangements.
The Spanish priests probably thought so, too.
President Obama caught a little flak when he smacked a fly during a recent press interview in the White House.
During the interview, a pesky fly buzzed around his head and then landed on his hand. Big mistake. The commander-in-chief nailed him.
The bug stopped there. "I got the sucker," he said.
That prompted the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to protest the fly "execution."
And now YouTube, Facebook, My Space, the bloggers and the tweeters are all getting into the act.
The President killed a fly.
So have I.
To be honest, I'm not one to participate in a catch-and-release program.
However, I do photograph them occasionally. See, there's this forensic entomologist at UC Davis named Robert Kimsey who shows fly images in his PowerPoints.
Last weekend I photographed a blow fly that landed on my pink-petaled cosmos. Did it for Bob. Honest.
Surely it's true that "You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar" but frankly, I wouldn't waste the honey. Or the vinegar. Or the time. And why would I want to catch flies anyway? The fly is not my favorite pollinator. It's a notorious disease transmitter.
Still, it can be pretty in pink.
Got the sucker.
Cosmos flowers are somewhat like Libras. They balance.
In fact, the word, "cosmos," means "harmony" or "ordered universe" in Greek.
Plant cosmos and you'll soon be enjoying colorful flowers that belong to the Asteraceae family, which also includes sunflowers, daisies and asters. Plant a variety of colors--white, pink, orange, yellow and scarlet--and you'll see why the Spanish missions in Mexico favored cosmos.
They're beautiful and easy to grow.
An added benefit: they attract syrphids, also known as flower flies and hover flies.
Plant cosmos. Attract syrphids. Capture an image of a syrphid on a cosmos.
Caught on the cosmos.