Being parasitised by a greater honeyguide is very bad news for a host – the young honeyguide stabs the host’s young to death with special bill hooks as soon as it hatches (more here). It’s therefore puzzling that little bee-eater hosts seem not to recognise and eject honeyguide eggs from their nests (more here). In this paper, we tested whether perhaps the sight of a female honeyguide (pictured) at the nest might give hosts a cue that they’re being parasitised and prompt them to defend themselves. The answer is that most bee-eaters seem bafflingly blithe! Read more in the original paper by Wenfei Tong, Nicholas Horrocks and Claire Spottiswoode, available open access in Ibis.
New paper on imperfect egg mimicry
Our paper “Combined measures of mimetic fidelity explain imperfect mimicry in a brood parasite-host system” has just been published in the journal Biology Letters. This study was led by Tanmay Dixit, and carried out together with Gary Choi, Salem al-Mosleh, Jess Lund, Jolyon Troscianko, Collins Moya, L Mahadevan, and Claire Spottiswoode, as part of a collaboration between our group and Prof. Mahadevan and his lab at Harvard University. Together we combined mathematical tools and field experiments in Zambia to quantify a key difference – “squiggle” markings – between the eggs of hosts (tawny-flanked prinias) and parasites (cuckoo finches). We showed that suboptimal behaviour on the part of prinias allows cuckoo finches to get by with an imperfect copy of prinia eggs.