National Geographic : 1954 Apr
560 Donald I. Ker Shrouded Against a Thousand Stinging Furies, Wandorobos Hack Open a Bee Tree Some Africans carry the honey-guide's heart as a hunting talisman. Other tribes once cut off the ears of anyone so foolish as to kill the revered bird. Kenya's Wandorobos always follow when the guide calls, lest they offend the gods who sent it. Here tribesmen try to shield faces while clouds of resentful bees, pour ing from the knothole, sting arms and legs. The golden harvest, coveted as food and as an article of trade, seems worth the discomfort to them. A single tree may produce 15 pounds of the sticky sweet. to its instincts. Its behavior pattern, which we call guiding, is released by the sight or sound of creatures it has come to associate with bees' nests-ratels, and humans except in areas where men no longer open the nests. When the bird finally brings its companion within the sight or sound of bees, its excite ment subsides. Bird May Aid Tuberculosis Fight Inasmuch as honey-guides eat quantities of insects, the question naturally arises, Why their interest in bees' nests? We know now as a result of many observations and experi ments that the birds not only eat the wax but extract nourishment from it. This digestive feat is almost unique in the animal kingdom. Aside from the honey-guide, only the larva of the wax moth is known to accomplish it. Researchers are now trying to learn how the wax is broken down-whether by bacteria, en zymes, or some other agent. Results of this study may point the way to a drug that will break down the waxy armor protecting the bacilli of tuberculosis, leprosy, and certain other diseases. Like the cowbirds of America and the cuckoos of Europe, honey-guides are para sites in their breeding habits. They con struct no homes of their own but lay eggs in the nests of other birds. Flying away, the unsocial parent leaves her young for others to rear (pages 552, 557, 558). Thus does Indicator indicator perpetuate itself. And the new generation, in its turn, may assume the unwitting role of guide, carrying out its mythical destiny of seeking revenge on the hapless bee.