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I remained with the control group, which oxpeckers continued to visit and feed on as normal.
Some authors have even argued that this behavior may be beneficial to mammals because it keeps the wound clean and prevents both bacterial infection and infestation by blow-flies (Breitwisch, 1992; Someren, 1951).
What is needed is an experiment similar to the ones carried out on cleaner fish (Grutter, 1996, 1999), where the cleaner is excluded from a group of hosts and the effects compared to a control group.
While this demonstrated which tick species oxpeckers prefer to eat (blue ticks, ), it did not show what effect oxpeckers might have in the field where ticks are attaching continuously to the host, oxpeckers will always have the option of other hosts to feed on, and where there is unlikely to be a ratio as high as five birds to two hosts 24 h a day.
Although tick feeding has been the focus of much attention, the oxpecker's habit of feeding at open wounds has generally been ignored (e.g., Stutterheim et al., 1988), or regarded as having a negligible effect (e.g., Dale, 1992), despite strong evidence that blood is the birds' preferred food (e.g., Bezuidenhout and Stutterheim, 1980; Weeks, 1999).
) are just such an example of an “adaptive story.” These small birds feed almost exclusively on what they can glean from the skin of large African mammals.
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The relationship is obligate for the birds, and it is generally assumed that hosts benefit through a reduction in tick load.
Cattle are hosts to five species of ixodid tick at Sentinel (blue ticks, brown ear ticks, bont ticks ).
Ticks have three life stages (larva, nymph, and adult), each of which requires a different individual host on which they attach and engorge with blood before dropping off and metamorphosing to the next stage.
They spent the night in separate cattle kraals, which I alternated every week.
Controlling for grazing areas was particularly important because the ranch has large populations of other potential tick hosts, notably impala ().