Lies, damned lies, and honey badgers

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I recently wrote a piece about a bird called the greater honeyguide, whose chicks brutally murder those of other birds. But honeyguides are better known for a more helpful behaviour – leading humans to bee hives. The people break open the hives and leave behind an otherwise inaccessible piece of honey for the bird.

In the post, I mentioned that the honeyguide also has an alliance with that darling of silly internet memes, the honey badger. I first heard that honeyguides lead honey badgers to bee hives when I was a child, and I’ve seen the fact repeated ever since. I have even seen footage of their interaction on a wildlife documentary.

Others apparently have too. When I tweeted about my honeyguide post, Joe Hanson replied with “Typical of a honey badger ally.” Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge, says, “[Honeyguides] are also well known for leading the honey badger, or ratel, to bee hives in eastern Africa.” And for those tutting at Wikipedia, this particular fact also shows up in an authoritative textbook on African birds and David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds.

Unfortunately, it’s not true.