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small plainly colored Old World bird of the family Indicatoridae, known for its habit of leading man and some lower animals (notably the honey badgerhoney badger
or ratel
, carnivore, Mellivora capensis, of the forest and brush country of Africa, the Middle East, and India; it is a member of the badger and skunk family.
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) to the nests of wild bees. Honeyguides are native to Africa, the Himalayas, and the East Indies. The largest and best-known species is the 8-in. long (20-cm) black-throated African honeyguide, Indicator indicator. It leads tribespeople to bees' nests, waits for them to open the hive, and then feeds on bits of honeycomb, bees, and larvae; it has special bacteria in its stomach to aid in the digestion of beeswax. Honeyguides lay their eggs in the nests of hole-nesting birds and the young, on hatching, kill their nest mates with special needle-sharp bill hooks; they are then able to consume all the food brought by their foster parents. Honeyguides are classified in the phylum ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
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, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Piciformes, family Indicatoridae.
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"Angry bees can and do sting honeyguides to death," Spottiswoode says.
After removing honeycombs from nests, the Yao leave beeswax behind for the honeyguides and even put wax chunks on beds of leaves to reward their avian helpers.
So humans and honeyguides may have hunted together for at least that long, says Harvard University biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham.
In different parts of Africa, honeyguides respond to local honey-hunting calls of human groups, Spottiswoode suspects.
Hadza honey seekers believe this keeps honeyguides hungry and motivates them to lead further hunts.
A new study, published in the journal Science on Friday, found that free-living honeyguide birds in Mozambique regularly help humans locate nests of bees for collecting honey.
Therefore the honeyguide waits while an expert human undertakes the dangerous tasks of subduing the bees (by smoking them out using a flaming bundle of twigs and leaves hoisted high into the tree) and extracting the honey from within, usually by felling the entire tree.
They recorded the honey-hunting call used by the Yao and along with two other testing sounds, played them back in the wild where honeyguide birds were found.
(1989) "Honeyguides and Honey Gatherers: Interspecific Communication in a Symbiotic Relationship." Science, 243:1343-1346.
According to ornithologist William Shileds of Syracuse (N.Y.) University, honeyguides have been guiding honey badgers even longer than they have been guiding humans.
For years these nomadic people have claimed that the African honeyguide, Indicator indicator, uses flight patterns and calls to guide them to bees' nests.
Once there, the honeyguide informs its followers by uttering a different call.