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the web of life in southern Africa

Myrmecocichla formicivora (Ant-eating chat) 

Swartpiek [Afrikaans]; Isanzwili [Xhosa]; Thoromeli (also applied to Capped wheatear), Thume (also applied to rock thrushes) [South Sotho]; Leping [Tswana]; Kaapse miertapuit [Dutch]; Traquet fourmilier [French]; Termitenschmätzer, Ameisenschmätzer [German]; Chasco-formigueiro-meridional [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Muscicapidae > Genus: Myrmecocichla

Myrmecocichla formicivora (Ant-eating chat)  Myrmecocichla formicivora (Ant-eating chat)

Ant-eating chat. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Ant-eating chat with millipede. [photo Johan van Rensburg ©]

Myrmecocichla formicivora (Ant-eating chat)  Myrmecocichla formicivora (Ant-eating chat) 
Ant-eating chat, Vredenburg, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©] Ant-eating chat, Dullstroom, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Endemic to southern Africa, occurring across Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, while absent from Mozambique and most of Zimbabwe. It generally prefers open grasslands, semi-arid shrubland, grassy hills and open, arid savanna.

Distribution of Ant-eating chat in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites 

  • The eggs are eaten by Rhabdomys pumilio (Striped field mouse).
  • Chicks can be infected with parasitic mites (Ornithonyssus bursa)

Brood parasites

It has been recorded as host of the Greater honeyguide.


It mainly eats insects, especially ants and termites, doing most of its foraging on the ground in Winter, whereas in Summer it prefers to pounce on prey from a low perch. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Facultative cooperative breeder, meaning that the breeding pair are sometimes helped by juveniles from the previous breeding season.
  • The nest is a bowl of dry grass and roots placed in a chamber at the end of a self-excavated burrow, which is usually about 30-150cm long. Both sexes take about 8-10 days to do the excavation, usually digging into the roof of an Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) burrow, sand wall, steam bank or sand quarry.
  • Egg-laying season is from August-March, peaking from October-November.
  • It lays 2-7, usually 3 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 14-15 days.
  • The chicks are fed by both adults and sometimes helpers, leaving the nest after about 15-18 days. They remain dependent on their parents for about 7-10 days more, after which they still use the burrow for shelter, roosting and as a hiding place when they get alarmed.


Not threatened, in fact common across much of southern Africa.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.