Oxpeckers and their symbiotic relationships

Oxpeckers have a symbiotic relationship with oxen, antelopes, zebras, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, and many ungulates (hoofed-animals) in Africa.

Oxpeckers are birds that feed on ticks that live on the body of animals. Sometimes they are called tickbirds. The ticks live near the animal’s ears, neck, eyelids, forehead and underbelly. Oxpeckers also feed on the earwax and dandruff of animals.

The impala, a small antelope, is the smallest ungulate that oxpeckers have a symbiotic relationship with. Oxpeckers selectively attended to impala despite the presence of other animals. A possible explanation is that the impala lives in woodlands, and these habitats have a high density of ticks.

There are two species of oxpeckers, and both are passerines (perching bird with four toes; three pointing forward and one pointing backward). The Yellow-Billed Oxpecker (Buphagus africanus) is from Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Red-Billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) is from east Africa.

 

Yellow-Billed Oxpecker

Yellow-Billed Oxpecker on a buffalo

zebra

Zebra with Oxpeckers

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Rhinos with Oxpeckers

 

 

Photographer: Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

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