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Carmine Bee-eaters (Merops nubicus & M. nubicoides) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Diet & Feeding

All bee-eater species are insectivorous

  • Consume a diverse diet of flying insects
    • May specialize on locusts, grasshoppers, and bees
      • Bees and bee-predators are especially common
      • Known to follow movements of locusts across flood plains of the Niger River, in Mali
    • Will exploit any plentiful flying insect
  • Uncommonly eat small fish (from Fry 1984)
    • Based on observed of filmed behavior and remnants of regurgitated fish bones
  • Representative diet of Zimbabwe's Beatrice colony
    • 80% honeybees
    • 15% ants, wasps, and other bees
    • 5% grasshoppers, lacewings, flies, and beetles

Regurgitate indigestible insect parts

  • Parts formed into pellets, c. 2 cm (0.8 in) in size
    • Records of diet easily obtained from droppings on the ground below colonies
    • A single individual may produce 3-6 pellets per day

Feeding strategy (from Fry 1984)

  • Aerial hunters
    • Foraging 50-100 m (164-328 ft) above ground for 5-10 minutes at a time
    • Northern Carmines use large mammals and birds for "beaters", riding on their backs to watch for flushed insects
      • Southern Carmines do this rarely
  • Readying bees for consumption
    • Manipulate food items while perched
      • Position bee so it is held just behind the thorax
      • Smack bee's head against perch
      • Quickly change grip to hold tip of abdomen
      • Rub tail-end against perch till it and the sting is crushed or ejected
      • The head is rapped once or twice and the bee can then be swallowed
    • Behavior is learned over time, though a bee-eater raised in managed care by Fry (1984) eventually taught itself to express venom from bees prior to eating them


southern carmine bee-eater perched, catching bee

Southern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicoides) in northwestern Botswana.

Image credit: © Tarique Sani from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Fry (1984, 1992, 2001)
Ryan (2009)

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