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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Two Beautiful Heads are Better than One

It's a rule of taxonomy that no two animals or plants can have the same genus name, for obvious reasons of clarity. However there is nothing to prevent a plant and an animal genus from being identically named, and a truly iconic Canberra animal and a less-celebrated but beautiful little Canberra plant have the same (or virtually the same) name.

A commonly occurring word-stem in names - especially of plants it seems - is calli- or cali-, from the Greek word meaning beautiful. (The Australian bottlebrushes, Callistemon, are an obvious example.)
Callistemon rugulosus, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.
The genus name means 'beautiful stamens'.
Another, in both plants and animals, is cephalo-, meaning a head. (Squids are cephalopods - head feet!)

Putting the two together, as Callocephalon, or Calocephalus (the final form may vary slightly, based as it is on one taxonomist's conversion of a Greek word into a Latinised form), we get of course 'beautiful head'. The Gang-Gang Cockatoo is one of the best reasons to live in Canberra, which is the only city in the world where Gang-Gangs can be regularly found even in the city centre. The loping flight, the male's foppishly floppy and wispy red coiffure and the creaky calls, reminding me of the time when accessing a bottle of wine meant extracting a cork, all make this smallest cockatoo a most endearing neighbour.
Gang-gang Cockatoo Callocephalon fimbriatum, Canberra;
male above, female below.

Unsurprisingly the Gang-Gang is the faunal emblem of the Australian Capital Territory, and the symbol of our Parks Service and the Canberra Ornithologists Group (actually we're just bird-watchers, but our founders were a bit snobby and it's too good an acronym to give up apparently).

The plant I mentioned is much more modest little character, a summer-flowering daisy of grasslands, with effectively the same name in Latin and English - Calocephalus citreus, Lemon Beauty-head. In the close-up we can see the tiny florets that make up the daisy flower-head, which we talked about last month.
Lemon Beauty-heads


Two very lovely and very characteristic Canberrans; and neither is just a pretty head...


2 comments:

Susan said...

My parents were given a painting of a pair of Gang Gangs as a wedding present by the artist Betty Temple-Watts, who lived in Canberra for some time. Her son and my father were best friends. I think the painting is a copy or a second version of the one she did for the Post Office that became one of a series of stamps in the 60s.

Flabmeister said...

I am not surprised that taxonomists interested in different Kingdoms tend to duplicate names. In the world of Fungi people use names that are very similar within the same group. The most egregious examples are the genera Boletus and Boletellus (both fleshy pore fungi) and Ramaria and Ramariopsis (both coral fungi)!

Martin