Do oxpeckers provide overall benefit to giraffes?

Everyone knows that giraffes (Giraffa) and oxpeckers (Buphagus, have an intimate relationship (e.g. see and and and and and and and

However, how many realise that it remains unsure whether giraffes get any overall advantage from the relationship?

On the upside is that oxpeckers remove ticks and other ectoparasites ( and But on the downside is the risk of oxpeckers betraying the whereabouts of giraffes to potential predators.

Because it is difficult to weigh a chronic mitigation against an acute exacerbation, the net benefit for giraffes remains difficult to assess.

Oxpeckers utter various rattling vocalisations, in:

  • social communication within the species,
  • alarm vs their own predators, and
  • surrogate alarm on behalf of their megafaunal hosts.

Readers can hear examples in the following:

Oxpeckers sometimes behave (e.g. taking refuge behind the mane of giraffes) as if alarmed on their own behalf by the approach of potential predators such as the human species (e.g. see This is puzzling because the predators involved are extremely unlikely to target the birds in the first place. And it is not necessarily the case that oxpeckers, when on giraffes, simply maintain silence until giving the alarm on behalf of their hosts.

There is evidence that oxpeckers do aid the hook-lipped rhino (Diceros bicornis) by announcing the approach of humans ( and However, rhinos have exceptionally poor eyesight whereas giraffes have exceptionally good eyesight (

Giraffes have such extreme visual advantages that any augmentation of their vigilance by oxpeckers is questionable.

(As a thought-provoking digression, please see the sheer difference in the sizes of the eyeballs in Nobody needs doubt that the eyesight of oxpeckers can be as good as that of giraffes, but is it not remarkable that this depend so little on size?)

Instead, the birds' calls - uttered for whichever reason - may possibly draw the attention of predators to individuals or small groups of giraffes otherwise fairly concealed by trees.

So, the problem resolves partly to an apparent conflict between two adaptive values:

  • that of the colouration of giraffes, which hypothetically camouflages them, and
  • that of their association with oxpeckers, which hypothetically undermines this camouflage.

This puzzle is unlikely to be solved soon, because relevant data are hard to collect and the behaviour of oxpeckers towards potential predators is complex and seemingly inconsistent.

In the meantime, I have gleaned the following information and illustrations from the Web, for the general interest of iNaturalists. and and and and



Posted on 15 December, 2021 18:28 by milewski milewski


Good to know

Posted by dotun55 over 2 years ago

@dotun55 Hi Adedotun, I'm glad you found this of interest, with regards from Antoni.

Posted by milewski over 2 years ago

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