KZN earthworms get English names to be more relatable to the public

Cape Town - Two scientists in KwaZulu-Natal have embarked on a great earthworm naming push, to assign common English names to the roughly 100 species of indigenous earthworms found in the province.

The scientists hope these new and at times descriptive English names, published last week in the open access scientific journal African Invertebrates this month, will make it easier for the public to relate to the worms.

“The vulnerability of these species to extinction needs to be communicated to the general public who relate more to English names than scientific names,” wrote scientists Dr Adrian Armstrong of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and Ms Thembeka Nxele of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum in their paper. 

Using common and standardised English names would also make it easier for the different types of earthworms to be included in environmental impact assessments.

“Scientific names are often intractable to non-specialists, and the lack of common names leaves environmental assessors in the dark when they need to figure out which earthworms may occur at a development site,” said African Invertebrates publisher Pensoft in a statement.

The scientists noted that people had started referring to one type of worm, informally, as the “green giant wrinkled earthworm”.

The use of this informal English name actually helped the species be included in environmental impact assessments, as people had a common term of reference.

The researchers hope that giving English names to the rest of the worms, some who live in very small regions, will have a similar effect.

To give the worms English names the scientists used the invertebrates’ scientific names as a guide. But they also tried to use descriptive language to make identification of the worms easier for non-scientists.

Among worms sporting new English names include the mountain-dwelling wrinkled earthworm, the disorderly-bristled stumpy earthworm, the Nkandla bristly earthworm and the horseshoe-gland stumpy earthworm.

         
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