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Oxpeckers hang out with big ungulates–animals v hoofs favor rhinos, giraffes and also water buffalo. Derek Keats/Flickr

You’ve checked out it: a peaceful picture of interspecies togetherness. The beloved oxpecker, perched on the ago of a rhinoceros or zebra, happily having lunch while ridding its ride of pesky ticks, flies and other bugs. Not so fast–those oxpeckers room washing the bugs down through a healthy helping that blood. As if the endangered types of sub-Saharan Africa didn"t have sufficient to worry about.

You are watching: Birds on hippo's back

The oxpecker (there are actually two species, one that has a red bill and also one that has actually a yellow bill) does more than simply clean bugs for huge game animals, to write Encyclopedia Britannica: the birds additionally hiss loudly when they spot danger, giving a type of second warning device to their bigger hosts. However, the connection isn’t one of total simplicity: though they rid animals of pests, “oxpeckers also take blood from the sores, which may be slow-moving to heal,” writes the encyclopedia.

That’s right. While it is true that oxpeckers do eat bugs, they likewise eat rhinos, and zebras and giraffes, and whatever other big animals they have the right to hang out with. The means, created a team of researcher in a 2011 study published in the journal Evolution, that the oxpecker can also be viewed as a parasite come their larger hosts and a helper.

To number out much more about their relationship, they studied the preferences oxpeckers seem to have actually for their hold animals. They found that both red- and also yellow-billed oxpeckers choose hosts with the largest variety of ticks, however don’t pick based upon how thick your host’s hide is. They understood this to median that oxpickers are mainly looking for pets with the greatest variety of yummy ticks, rather than the most potential because that bloody sores. “These outcomes support the hypothesis that the relationship between oxpickers and ungulates is mostly mutualistic,” lock concluded.

But yes sir no denying that oxpickers do damage to your hosts. Until fairly recently, those who studied the two varieties believed they to be a perfect example of mutualistic behavior, wherein two varieties help each other, write Jason Bittel because that Slate. However, “oxpeckers are notorious for pick-, pick-, picking their way into your hosts,” that writes. “Do a fast Youtube search for oxpeckers, and you’ll discover videos of this birds digging right into hippo flesh, fighting over buffalo blood and straddling the head of an antelope just to get at a challenge wound.”

The birds likewise use their four-legged friends/meals for nesting material. Red-billed oxpickers have been uncovered to usage wool pulled from the backs that sheep. In captivity, the birds supplied hairs they pulled from the ears of rhinos they shared an enclosure with.

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And oxpeckers aren’t the just birds out there who have actually this type of relationship with other animals: A researcher at the university of Campinas found that black vultures have a comparable relationship come capybaras in southeastern Brazil and other “cleaner bird” varieties have been found to have similar relationships, write biologist Ivan Sazima. Just an additional magical (if gross) corner of the herbal world.