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White-fronted Bee-eater (Merops bullockoides) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomic History & Nomenclature

Similar foot structure (3 forward-facing toes, two partially fused) formed the basis for the earliest classifications of this bird Order. (Sibley & Ahlquist 1990).

Little diversity in body shape, size, plumage in Meropidae (bee-eater) species, but much diversity in ecological and behavioral traits. (Marks et al 2007)

Several taxonomic solutions for higher level classification above the level of family for these birds:

  • The ITIS (Integrated taxonomic Information System) used above, 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.

Two main clades exist for bee-eaters species, according to genetic studies (Marks et al 2007)

  • Mostly African resident, non-migratory species
  • Mostly migratory African and Asian species

The bee-eaters are most closely related to kingfishers, rollers, motmots, and todies. (Hackett et al 2008)

The Carmine Bee-eater subspecies are sometimes given separate species status but given that they are identical in voice, ecology, breeding and migratory habits, Fry (2001) considers their slight plumage and morphology differences better suited for subspecies designation.

Evolutionary History

Ancestral birds in the suborder Coracii have recently been recognized in North America from 50 million year-old rocks (Eocene); birds in this group do not exist in North America today (Clarke et al 2009).

  • Rollers, in the family Coraciidae, share with bee-eaters a genus of feather-lice, Meromenopon (Price & Emerson 1977); such an association may suggest a close evolutionary relationship.

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)

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).


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

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

Family: Meropidae (bee-eaters)

Genus: Merops

Species: Merops bullockoides - White-fronted Bee-eater

Describer (Date): Smith, 1834. White-fronted Bee-eater


Page Citations

Clarke et al (2009)
Fry (1969, 1984, 2001)
Hackett et al (2008)
Marks et al (2007)
Price & Emerson (1977)
Sibley & Ahlquist (1990)
Sibley & Monroe (1990)
ITIS (2010)

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