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Carmine Bee-eaters (Merops nubicus & M. nubicoides) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomic History & Nomenclature

Common names

  • Local names
    • In the language of the Mandinka people of West African the Northern Carmine Bee-eater's name means "cousin to the fire" for their attraction to bush fires (Fry 1992)

Taxonomic history

  • Several proposed classification above the level of family
    • The ITIS (Integrated taxonomic Information System) classification, uses no suborders for birds
    • Fry (2001) used the suborder Meropes for bee-eaters
    • Sibley & Ahlquist (1990) placed bee-eaters in the suborder Alcedines, along with families of kingfishers, todies, and motmots
  • Variable classification schemes for Northern and Southern Carmine Bee-eaters
    • Former classified as subspecies of Merops nubicus
      • M. n. nubicus
      • M. n. nubicoides
    • Both are nearly identical in voice, ecology, breeding biology, and migratory habit
    • Fry (2001) considers their slight plumage and morphology differences better suited for subspecies designation


Order Coraciiformes

  • Diversity
    • Includes bee-eaters, hornbills, rollers, hoopoes, kingfishers, and some other birds
      • Rollers, in the family Coraciidae, share with bee-eaters a genus of feather-lice, Meromenopon ; such an association suggests a close evolutionary relationship.(Price & Emerson 1977)
    • Similar foot structure (3 forward-facing toes, two partially fused) formed the basis for the earliest classifications of this bird order (Sibley & Ahlquist 1990)
  • Evolutionary history
    • Ancestral birds (suborder Coracii) present in North America (from Clarke et al. 2009)
      • Fossil remains date from c. 50 million year old rocks (Eocene)
      • Birds in this suborder no longer exist in North America
    • Bee-eater-like birds, along with their close relatives, kingfisher-like, and roller-like birds lived in France some 40 million years ago (Eocene) (Fry 2001)

Bee-eaters/Family Meropidae

  • Evolutionary history
    • Bee-eaters are most closely related to kingfishers, rollers, motmots, and todies according to nuclear DNA studies. (Hackett et al 2008)
    • The Blue-bearded Bee-eater (Nyctyornis athertoni) of Asia is believed to be the sister taxon (or closest relative) of all other bee-eaters (Marks et al 2007)
  • Diversity
    • Divided into 2 main clades (groups), based on genetic studies (from Marks et al. 2007)
      • Mostly African, resident species
      • Mostly migratory Asian and African species

Genus Merops

  • Diversity
    • Includes 22 or more species

Cultural History

Popular cultural references


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Coraciiformes (bee-eaters, hornbills, rollers, hoopoes, kingfishers, and others)

Suborder: Meropes (bee-eaters)

Family: Meropidae

Genus: Merops

Species: Merops nubicus (Gmelin, 1788) — Northern Carmine Bee-eater
Species: Merops nubicoides (Des Murs & Pucheran, 1846) — Southern Carmine Bee-eater

Carmine Bee-eater Illustration

painting of a carmine bee-eater

Plate 21 from G.L. Buffon's 1794 Naturgeschichte der Vogel.

Image credit: Available from © Biodiversity Heritage LibrarySome rights reserved.

Page Citations

Fry (1992, 2001)
Marks et al (2007)
Hackett et al (2008)

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