Category Archives: Turkana

Bees of Turkana Poster

Hello – I have been working on a series of posters showcasing and celebrating the diversity of East African bees as part of a book on bees that I am putting together. I recently completed a poster on the ‘Bees of Turkana’.

One might think that Turkana as a hot, arid environment does not have a lot of diversity – but the opposite is true. Bees seem to like it hot and dry and the Turkana Basin is home to hundreds of different species of bees.

Here is a poster showing just a few of the amazing bees that call this part of the world home:

Please click on poster for a larger version

Please click on poster for a larger version

Please feel free to download and share this poster…

More from the wonderful world of dudus soon!



Turkana Bees

Dear All

Greetings – have been travelling with limited email access (and time!). A few weeks ago I was in northern Kenya at the Turkana Basin Institute looking at bees.

A yellow-flowered legume, Crotolaria, was blooming in one site near the river and it was covered in some of the most amazing bees… Here are a few of them.

We started looking for bees early in the morning. In a sheltered area in a glade I found these beautiful orange Lipotriches bees collecting pollen from Cenchrus grasses. Most bees are solitary and gather pollen from plants to provision a nest where they lay eggs. This is what the Lipotriches were doing.

A pair of Lipotriches bees foraging on pollen from Cenchrus grass


The most striking bee we found was this Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa sp.) that had the most incredible bright blue eyes! It flew around quite aggressively occasionally chasing off other Carpenter Bees that ventured too close to its patch of flowers.

Blue-eyed Carpenter Bee!


The most common bees visiting the flowers were various species of Leafcutter Bees (Megachilidae). These are bees that cut circles from leaves and use them to construct their nests by joining them up and lining a tube. They are also among the most elegant and beautiful of bees… They also fly very fast and zip about nervously from flower to flower so I had to be both patient and fast so as to capture some photos of them.

A Leafcutter Bee approaching the flowers


There were several different kinds of Leafcutter Bees around, including this large grey species:

Leafcutter Bee - note the yellow underside of the abdomen - that's where these bees carry pollen.


Another smaller Leafcutter Bee species


Leafcutter Bees are good at "tripping" flowers - bending them down to get more nectar out...


There were hundreds of bees flying about at the same time. Some of the bees chased each other away, but some of them were happy to share the flowers…

Leafcutter Bee (above) and Macrogalea bee (below) feeding near each other.

Feeding from flowers lower down was this interesting solitary bee species in the Halictidae family… beautiful with its black-and-white stripes…

A Halictid Bee weaving about the Crotolaria flowers.


More from the world of bugs soon!



Tree planting in honour of Wangari Maathai

Yesterday Kenya and the world celebrated the life of Prof. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 who recently passed away. As part of the activities in her honour, across the country communities came together to plant trees. The Turkana Basin Field School students joined the Friends of Lake Turkana, Forestry Department officials, members of the IRC committee in Lodwar and students and teachers of the St Michael Kawalase Primary school in a tree planting exercise.

The activities were organized by Ikal Angelei, who is a leading champion for local social and environmental issues, as well as coordinating many of the activities of the Turkana Basin Institute. Ikal is a passionate and able spokesperson and activist leading the fight for a better environment, livelihoods and justice in Turkana. It was a great honour and privilege for the students and myself to participate in this humble and powerful exercise.

Ikal Angelei and the headteacher Mr Keem address the students, as Mr Kenyaman, the scoutmaster and a champion for tree-planting looks on.

We planted trees at two different locations: at the St. Michael Kawalase Primary School as well as at a camp for Internally Displaces People near Lodwar. Ikal noted how the example and life of Wangari Maathai had inspired people all over the world and how important trees were for human life and livelihoods in the drylands of Turkana.

Ikal plants the first seedling of the day at the school

Ikal carefully fills in the earth around the seedling

Then it was the Field School students’ turn to get their hands into the soil…

Hui gets her seedling ready for planting

Roy helps fill in some earth around the seedling

Elaine waters the first seedling planted by the TBI students

Sarah waters her seedling

Kait gets her seedling ready for planting

The Forestry Department helped plant several of the seedlings

After the seedlings were planted, the students thanked the school and community members for the opportunity to help out.

Wes thanks the students, teachers and tells the students the importance of studying hard

The humble act of planting and caring for trees is the first step towards making a better world for all of us.

More from the world of bugs (and people too!) soon…

Birds and bees in the Kerio Delta

Greetings from the remote reaches of Turkana in northern Kenya…

The Lake Turkana Basin, while being a hot and dry area, includes several river systems and the 6,000 km2 + Lake Turkana. Three rivers feed into the lake: The Turwel, Kerio and Omo. The Omo, from the highlands of Ethiopia contributes about 90 % of the lakes’ waters. The Kerio River comes from the south, from streams originating in parts of the Cherangani Hills and north-western Kenyan Highlands. The rivers and deltas close to the Turkana Basin Institute are home to a rich diversity of insect and bird life.

Pied Kingfisher preparing to dive into the water after a fish!

After a long journey through the dry country the Kerio reaches the lake. We visited the Kerio Delta to look at some of the freshwater ecology issues and biodiversity. To get to the water we had to walk through a thick green tangle of prickly Prosopis bushes.

A channel in the Kerio Delta where we took a boat ride

This is an invasive species that was first introduced to the area some 25-30 years ago. Prosopis, more commonly known as mesquite. A short tree/shrub, not striking in any aspect, has swiftly and silently colonized vast stands of Kenya, and indeed East Africa’s arid rangelands. Eight species are currently placed in the genus Prosopis, originating primarily from Central and South America (Prosopis alba, P. chilensis, P. glandulosa, P. juliflora, P. tamarugo), with P. africana native to the Sahelian margins and P. cineraria found in parts of Afghanistan, India, Iran and Pakistan. Several of the above species have been introduced and managed in different parts of Kenya over the last few decades. Of these, the main villain has proved to be Prosopis juliflora, originating in the drylands of the Americas. It is exceptionally drought tolerant, can live on the most marginal of soils, and tolerates strongly saline conditions as well as seasonal waterlogging. It is Prosopis juliflora that has taken over vast areas of the Kerio Delta at Lake Turkana.

Invasive Prosopis growing into the water

We found that the Prosopis is in the process of swamping the natural beds of Typha bulrushes and aquatic grasses that normally serve as nurseries for fish and help oxygenate the water. Beneath the Prosopis little survives as the trees rot and the bitter tannin-filled leaves fill the water. Managing the Prosopis will be a big challenge in the future especially as it spreads through larger and larger areas. Total eradication is not really feasible. Prosopis spreads rapidly into areas that have been overgrazed, a sad reality over much of Kenya’s drylands. Seed dispersal, an oft-overlooked aspect, is rapidly effected by browsing goats, other wild ruminants and hares. The thicket-forming growth habit and deep-roots make it extremely difficult to remove once established even over a few square metres.

Prosopis pods - seeds are dispersed by goats

The one thing that Prosopis does do is provide forage for many different bee species, including both wild bees and honeybees

Wild Ceratina bee visiting the Prosopis flowers

Where the Prosopis opened up to more natural rushes and reeds we started seeing interesting birds and insects. The most dramatic sighting was of a large, majestic Goliath Heron.

Goliath Heron, largest of the herons, takes to the air...

One of the most interesting insect behaviours that we were able to watch was mate-guarding by damselflies. We had discussed this in class and it was exciting to see how diligently the male Cherry-eyed Damselflies held on to their mates to keep them from taking off and mating with other males!

A pair of Cherry-eyed Damselflies - the male holds on to the female firmly!

More from the world of bugs soon, thanks to everyone for the kind comments!

Desert filled with bees

A recent rainstorm has brought out the flowers in the desert of northern Kenya where I am currently based at the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI). I am here teaching an ecology module for the Turkana Basin Field School. A single rainstorm that fell a few weeks ago has also brought out a large number of insects. Like many of the plants, the insects are active and taking opportunity of the greenery to forage and breed. And like the plants they are all under intense pressure to complete their life-cycles. For insects this often involves several stages as eggs, larvae, pupae and finally adults.

Deserts and drylands are often mistakenly thought to be places of low diversity. However, they are rich in insect life, but most of this is hidden away awaiting the brief periods of flowering. As this time is now upon us, it has been very exciting for the students to glimpse some of the incredible bee diversity in this habitat. One of the groups of insects that are more diverse in drylands, especially in Africa, are the bees. These are wild bee species. Many people are surprised to learn that there are more than just honeybees. Bee diversity in this area is largely unexplored and no doubt many exciting new species and biology remains to be discovered.

A tiny bee, Nomioides, visiting a Tribulus flower at TBI

We started out watching and collecting bees on the Indigofera spinosa bushes within the TBI compound. A number of bees have been frantically visiting the tiny pink flowers. The students have collected several different bee species on the Indigofera. These include some large leafcutter bees who carry pollen on their bellies, which turns them bright yellow. Another common bee visiting the flower was a Pseudapis. Also visiting the flowers was a striking parasitic cuckoo bee species (Coelioxys) that is a brood parasite of the leafcutter bees. Just like the cuckoo bird, it lays its eggs in the nests made by the hardworking leafcutter bees!

Pseudapis - one of the most efficient pollinators of the Indigofera bushes

Leafcutter bee with its belly covered in pollen!

Cuckoo Bee (Coelioxys) visiting the Indigofera flowers.

We then travelled to a site in the open desert plains where a carpet of miniature flowers pressed close to the ground was busy with bee activity.

Students search for bees on the open semi-desert plains

Here we found several different bees that we hadn’t seen nearer TBI. These included a beautiful halictid or sweat bee with a bright orange abdomen.

Tiny, gorgeous halictid Nomiine bee

We also spent time catching parasitic wasps and bees that were tiny. These are so tiny that we had to use small bags and slip them quickly over the bees as they were foraging, as they could wriggle through the holes in the nets! The students worked hard and learnt a lot about bee diversity and how much work it is to study them!

Students hard at work looking for tiny bees and wasps

Student Hui poised ready to catch one of the zippy bees...

The students also collected data on visitation rates to flowers on the Indigofera bushes. This species is really important as it is the main browse for goats and camels which are the livestock species that people depend on in the drylands of Turkana. We found that solitary wild bee species are both the most abundant and the most efficient pollinators as they carry pollen between many different individual plants resulting in effective cross-pollination. The Indigofera bushes establish new plants from the seeds that only come about as a result of pollination by the wild bee species. So the bees feed the goats and camels indirectly!

Camel browsing on Indigofera from seeds made by bees

More from the world of bees and bugs soon.

To learn more about the Turkana Basin Institute, please visit their website:

Buzz! Buzz! Bees make eggplants…

Dear All

Many greetings. I have been up in the hot and dusty reaches of Turkana in northern Kenya. Most people only hear about this region as a place of drought and suffering. Turkana is also a beautiful, biodiversity-rich and potentially productive place…

Field of eggplant and Doum Palms in Turkana

Field of eggplant and Doum Palms in Turkana

I recently visited a pilot farming project in a remote area south of the Turkwel River. This is where the Turkana Basin Institute has been established through the efforts of Dr Leakey and Stony Brook University. Ikal Angelei is an amazing young woman who is involved in many different things related to the environment, human rights and development in the region. Ikal is working with a local women’s group using simple and sustainable irrigation to grow and produce food.

Ikal and freshly picked eggplants from the pilot farm

Ikal and freshly picked eggplants from the pilot farm

One of the crops grown up here is the eggplant or aubergine (Solanum melongena). Eggplants have beautiful pale-purple flowers with fused yellow anthers…

Eggplant is an interesting species in that the flowers require a very special kind of pollination in order to set fruit and produce a yield. It’s called buzz pollination and this short video tells you more about it:

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There were several different wild bee species visiting and pollinating the flowers. Here are some photos of them:

Solitary wild bee grapples with an eggplant flower

Solitary wild bee grapples with an eggplant flower

Wild Nomia bee bites the flower to 'buzz' the flower and release pollen

Wild Nomia bee bites the flower to 'buzz' the flower and release pollen

While most of the bees visiting the flowers were working hard to release the pollen, a few tiny stingless bees were ‘stealing’ pollen where it had been spilled by the efforts of larger bees. It does seem that even in nature there’s always someone ready to take advantage of others’ hard work!

Stingless bee on an eggplant flower - what is it not doing right?

Stingless bee on an eggplant flower - what is it not doing right?

Here are some photos showing the stingless bees taking advantage:

Nomia and Stingless bees come face to face!

Nomia and Stingless bees come face to face!

Macrogalea bee and a stingless bee lurking...

Macrogalea bee and a stingless bee lurking...

Thanks to the hard work of the bees and women up here in the ‘desert’ there are beautiful eggplants to harvest!

Healthy, nutritious eggplant thanks to the wild bees!

Healthy, nutritious eggplant thanks to the wild bees!

More from the world of bugs soon!