Sunday, February 20, 2011

With a little Help

"With a little help from a friend" comes to mind when watching a Redbilled oxpecker "at work" - in this case checking an impala for ticks = this small bird's "dining-room table".

An oxpecker's principal food is ticks, which it pulls from the hides of wild game and domestic cattle with it's strong and heavy bill. Whilst "snacking", an oxpecker feeling "at home" on a wild animal can result in a comical-looking image.

However impalas are the only hoofed animals not only dependent on "outside" help to remove often life-threatening parasites, because impalas are "blessed with" canines and incisors specifically adapted to grooming. As a result one often sees these particular antelopes partaking in mutual grooming.

Strangely and erroneously, Cattle egrets are often referred to as "tick-birds" whilst instead, that term should be "reserved" only for oxpeckers - because Cattle egrets feed on insects, not ticks!

In the wild, Cattle egrets are often seen accompanying or "resting" on the back of a bovine or ox-look-alike buffalo - again giving the impression that like oxpeckers, they assist with the grooming process.

Another "error" occured when originally a "true" antelope was called a "Wildebeest" (direct translation of this Dutch/ Afrikaans name = "wild cattle", & NOT "wild beast") - although its head looks ox-like whilst its mane & tail appear horse-like. As is the case with cattle and buffalo, herds of wildebeest are also often accompanied by cattle egrets, because a grazing herd "flushes" up/out insects (an egret's principal food) from the grass.

When we talk about grooming we usually think that it's a primate "occupation" (in contrast to impalas = SEE above). Watching Vervet monkeys grooming each other is probably one of the most endearing moments one can experience when in the wild - whilst from a primate "perspective", grooming or the removal of ticks is "high on the list" of survival skills.

Mutual grooming amongst baboons (or other primates) doesn't only serve the obvious ourpose of keeping their fur clean, but also "promotes" harmony within a troop = "keeping the peace". Only 1 species of baboon is native to southern Africa, but these Chacma baboons are the largest baboon species world-wide.

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