The gnateaters are a bird family, Conopophagidae, consisting of ten small passerine species in two genera, which occur in South America. The family was formerly restricted to the gnateater genus Conopophaga; analysis of mtDNA cytochrome b and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 sequences (Rice 2005a,b) indicates that the bar-bellied "antpittas", Pittasoma, also belong in this family. These perhaps might be more appropriately called gnatpittas as their similarity to the true antpittas is due to convergent evolution. They are very closely related to the antbirds and less closely to the antpittas and tapaculos. Due to their remote and dim habitat, gnateaters are a little-studied and poorly known family of birds, though they are highly sought after by birdwatchers.
Habitat and range
Gnateaters are birds of the forest understory, bamboo
stands, and the forest floor in the Amazon
and Orinoco basins
and surrounding slightly higher ground. Some species live in impenetrable thickets; others live in more open forest. While they are always found near the forest floor, seldom rising more than 1.5 m above the ground, they also seldom travel or spend much time on the ground (though they do feed there; see diet).
They are round, short-tailed, and long-legged birds, about 12-18 cm (5-7 inches) in length. They are quite upright when standing. Sexes differ in plumage, and males are attractively coloured in shades of red and brown, with sexual dichromatism less pronounced in Pittasoma. Most Conopophaga species have a white tuft behind the eye.
Gnateaters are insectivorous
as the group name implies. They feed mostly using two methods; one is to perch above the forest floor until prey is spotted, then lunge down to the ground to snatch it; having landed on the ground to snatch a prey item it will not remain on the forest floor for more than a couple of seconds. The second method used by gnateaters is to glean
insects directly from the foliage, trunks, and branches of low vegetation. Typical prey items include spiders
, insect larvae, grasshoppers
; individuals of some species have also been observed eating fruit and in one case a frog
- Rice, Nathan H. (2005a): Phylogenetic relationships of antpitta genera (Passeriformes: Formicariidae). Auk 122(2): 673-683. [English with Spanish abstract] DOI:10.1642/0004-8038(2005)122[0673:PROAGP]2.0.CO;2 PDF fulltext
- Rice, Nathan H. (2005b): Further Evidence for Paraphyly of the Formicariidae (Passeriformes). Condor 107(4): 910-915. [English with Spanish abstract] PDF fulltext
- Whitney, B.M. (2003) Family Conopophagidae (Gnateaters) Pp 732-748 in del Hoyo J., Elliott A. & Christie D.A. (2003) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 8. Broadbills to Tapaculos Lynx Edicions, Barcelona ISBN 84-87334-50-4