Mutualism  makes Species of the nature flourish


Maneka Gandhi


(Bihar Times) While white, browns, blacks of our own species have problems looking beyond colour, here are some partnerships that go beyond even species.

Close, beneficial associations between creatures of different species are nothing unusual. On the contrary, they are the very fabric of nature like any friendship, this bonding brings so many advantages . Food , protection, cleaning, or just a ride. It is called mutualism and it is what makes most species survive.

The green sea turtle and Goldring surgeonfish swim together. The turtle has algae growing on its shell. The fish eats this and in the bargain cleans the shell.

The Hermit crab puts sea anemones on its shell. The anemones have stinging tentacles. The crab gets protection and camouflage. The anemones get free travel to places that might have more food and tidbits of food that float up from the crab.

Scale insects and aphids are slow and easily eaten by birds. But they have ant friends. The insects make sweet stuff called honeydew that they squirt out of their rear ends. The ants eat the honeydew and in return become bodyguards and attack anything that threatens the insects Goby fish live with shrimp. The shrimp builds and maintains a burrow, in which the goby and shrimp live together. The shrimp works hard, shoveling sand out of the front entrance like a bulldozer. The goby sits in the entrance of the burrow, keeping guard and warning the shrimp, which is nearly blind, of danger. At any sign of danger the goby darts into the burrow followed by the shrimp . Before the shrimp emerges from the burrow, it touches the goby’s tail with its antennae. If  it’s safe to come out, the goby wiggles its tail. When the shrimp is out of the burrow, it keeps one antenna touching the goby.  Remove the fish, and the shrimp stops burrowing;  And the goby needs its shrimp: without the shelter it will promptly be killed by predators. The shrimp keeps the goby clean, too by grooming it.

 The oxpecker bird rides around on the backs of cattle.  It  feeds on the skin parasites of the cattle. It warns the animals of approaching predators; Both organisms benefit.   Tickbirds ride fearlessly on the backs of rhinoceros.Tiny insects on the rhinoceros’ back bite it and make it itch. The tickbird eats these insects. This makes the rhinoceros feel better. 

 The large , ferocious Barracuda fish comes regularly to the coral reefs and stand on its head . This is a signal to the tiny Cleaning Fish that the barracuda is looking for a cleaning, not a meal.  The tiny fish scour the skin, mouth and gills of the Barracuda, removing any parasites they find . They get a good meal out of it.

The anemones will sting and eat any fish that come near it. But the clownfish becomes their friend.The fish gets a safe house and some tidbits; the anemone gets cleaned and has the clownfish working as lures to bring in potential prey, or chasing away fish that would harm the anemone. 

The Tree Sloth  has  algae growing in its fur.  These algae get a habitat where they can flourish in the heat and moistness of the hair and in turn they  help to camouflage the sloth against the lichen-covered tree so that it is almost invisible which is important because the sloth hardly moves.
In the dense equatorial forest birds and mammals cooperate to find food. In a large marsh  African Jacanas and egrets work with gorillas and elephants to flush  out prey.   African jacanas, finfeet, and Hartlaub's ducks remove ectoparasites from forest buffalo and bongo antelope and in turn warn them about predators .

The small African bird Honeyguide and the honey eating badger work together. The bird guides the badger to find bees’ nests. The badger tears the hive apart with its strong claws and then feeds on the honey, while the bird feeds on the bee larvae and pupae.

Dwarf mongooses in the Taru desert of Africa form communities with hornbills. The mongooses sleep in termite mounds and the hornbills wait in the trees for them to wake up. Conversely , even if the mongoose is awake it waits for a hornbill to come by. They then go foraging for food together. Both species are in danger from raptors and so they take it in turns to warn each other when a raptor appears.

Mites hitch rides on the Carrion Beetle.  The beetle locates dead animals and goes to the carcasses to lay its eggs, which hatch and feed on maggots on the carcass.  The mites feed on fly eggs reducing competition for the carrion by the flies, and thus helps the beetles out . 

Water Dikkops are birds that walk freely amid crocodiles , even lay their eggs in the same place where the crocodiles lay their eggs! They eat insects that bother the crocodiles. This gives the birds an easy meal and makes the crocodiles more comfortable.  The Nile Bird enters the crocodile’s mouth  and cleans  scraps of food  stuck in its teeth ,harmful leeches and parasites Mutualism is the reason that both species flourish. This contrasts with  exploitation, in which one species benefits at the expense of the other – which is all that humans do. A n association with another organism gives access to a whole new set of capacities. It’s faster and more powerful than going it alone. If we could only mature to mutualism, known as the most developed form of living, what a wonderful world it would be.

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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