Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Naming names OR how to get more fun from downloading checklists

Have you ever wondered how some plants and animals get their names? Obviously they are given names so that we can tell them apart and communicate with other people.  This sounds simple enough – a green-headed sunbird differs from a blue-throated sunbird and a scarlet-chested sunbird. But what about an African spirit, a friendly sapphire, blue policeman, western fairy playboy or gaudy commodore?   You could never tell from the names that these are butterflies.  In fact if you look through the Forest Project checklists of birds and butterflies (see Downloads), you have to conclude that ornithologists are practical and to-the-point with their names, while lepidopterists are imaginative to say the least.  Perhaps this is because we don’t catch and eat butterflies.  After all, the right whale got its name because it was the right one to go after for its meat and oil.  You can’t have a much more direct name than that.
blue policeman (Coeliades chalybe)
Plants come somewhere in between.  The sandpaper tree has leaves that feel like sandpaper and can be used for polishing, a dose of the worm bush gets rid of  worms, pigweed is good for feeding pigs and bitter leaf is exactly that.  These are useful names for describing practical purposes but then some plants have names like “morning glory’, “woman’s tongue” and “passionflower”.  Names like these tell you more about the observer than the plant.  They reflect our feelings and interests.
In fact we often use our names for the wildlife around us to describe ourselves or others – ‘eagle-eyed’ or having a ‘bee in your bonnet’.  If you take the time and trouble to find out, you will discover that common names in any language can say a lot about people and culture. The Igbo name for Pararistolochia goldieana, the largest flower in Africa, is ekommili, describing the unopened flower which is similar in shape to the local blacksmith’s bellows (eko) but very fragile (mmili).  

Pararistolochia goldieana, buds and open flowers
Which brings us to scientific names.  Every organism on earth which has been classified by a scientist has a two-part scientific name.  They are based on Latin or Greek words, or on Latinised versions, and provide a common scientific language worldwide.  The scientist who first identifies and describes the organism gets to name it, following internationally accepted rules.  This may sound dull but some scientific names are every bit as interesting as common names.  If you learnt Latin at school, you would know that Pararistolochia means distinct from but similar to (para-) Aristolochia (another group of related plants).  The second part, goldieana, describes this plant specifically, in this case that it was brought to the attention of scientists by the Reverend Hugh Goldie, a missionary who lived in Calabar in the 1880s. 
Next time you find out the name of a bird or butterfly or plant, check what the name means or how it got its name.  You may find out something very interesting and it may also help you to remember the name.

Deni Bown 21 March 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beekeeping at IITA

Bees are very interesting social insects. Like most - OK some of us - they are highly disciplined and stick to a rigorous routine. When handled properly by a trained beekeeper, their products – honey, propolis and wax - can provide healthy products and a valuable source of income.
Beekeeping is not new to IITA Ibadan - there are reports of abandoned hives in and around the campus – but this project is the first joint venture between IITA and a local company, Earthly Produce Limited (EPL).  The idea for the project was inspired by IITA International School’s December 2010 production, Fern Gully, a play based on the theme of biodiversity.  The objective is to demonstrate the vital role forests play in providing sustainable natural resources which can generate earnings with very little investment or effort, especially for rural communities.
An area approximately 2,500 sq. m. in size, located in the IITA forest has been selected as the site of the apiary.  It has a wide variety of trees and will provide shade and excellent sources of nectar and pollen for the bees.  Ten Kenyan Top Bar hives, each with 20 top bars were installed on 20 February 2012. The choice of hive was based on the cost and ease of construction and also the low level of management required compared to other types of hives. The wood used to construct the hives is from locally grown Gmelina arborea trees, chosen for its strength and durability. Installing the hives at this time of the year is ideal as it falls within the honey flow season and there is also a high possibility of catching bee swarms.
Idris Olaniyan, Femi Kesington, Deni Bown (IITA), Jubril Abanikanda and Abdul Wahid Ibrahim at installation of EPL beehives in IITA forest.

In addition to developing the apiary, EPL will organise training seminars on beekeeping which will include both theoretical and practical sessions. The seminars will cover the basics of beekeeping such as hive construction, managing hives, beekeeping equipment and other topics necessary for the beginner.  They will also highlight the importance of beekeeping to farmers and the vital role that bees plays in pollinating crops.
So when next you see a bee foraging on a flower take a closer look and observe what it is doing. As long as you don’t touch it, the chances of getting stung are quite slim. But BEE careful  near a beehive or the nest of a wild colony.  Without proper protective clothing and know-how this could BEE quite dangerous!
Femi Kesington, Earthly Produce Limited
Deni Bown, IITA Forest Project