Blue-tailed Bee-eater feasting on hymenopterans

“After two days of almost non-stop rain, it was a joy to be able to go outdoor again to enjoy nature in the morning. It was more joy when I saw a pair of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters (Merops philippinus) leaving their perch in an African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata) every now and then to pursue their preys, returning a short while later with a catch. Preys were obviously in abundance as they didn’t have to wait long for the next catch. In one of my video clips, one took off for another sortie only 20 sec after it had consumed its prey. In another, the wait was about 40 sec. I suppose the bad weathers for the past two days had also affected the Hymenoptera, causing them to appear in large numbers though I did not see any flying. Hymenoptera, as I found out from Wikipedia, ‘is one of the largest orders of insects, comprising the sawflies, wasps, bees, and ants’. I learnt that wasps include hornets.

“Bee-eaters have stereotyped behaviour for dealing with preys. They would repeatedly smack the head of the prey against a perch. They then manipulate the insect’s body with the mandibles, biting along the abdomen from near the middle toward the tip. This action often squeezes droplets of venom from the bee or wasp. They then wipe the tip of the insect’s abdomen back and forth across the perch in what is known as ‘bee-rubbing’. Sometime this would pull the stinger and poison gland out of the prey.

“The attached image (left), taken on a different occasion, shows the silhouette of a wasp in the grasp of a Blue-tailed Bee-eater.

“The bee-eaters were usually seen perching on the TV antennae of houses nearby awaiting preys. On this occasion, they were in the tree within my condo making observation easier.

“With the bee-eaters still enjoying their feast, I walked away happily after half an hour’s observation with a ‘catch’ of six video clips.

“In the evening, I checked and found them still around feasting. I had another three clips within 10 min.

“The edited video (top) was made from the clips recorded on 1st February.

“Note: I didn’t see any ‘bee-rubbing’ in all my clips. Perhaps smacking and rubbing were combined for improved productivity.”

Sun Chong Hong
20th February 2011

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Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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