“Survival of the fittest” is an oft-quoted, oft-misunderstood saying that implies it’s every animal for themselves in the wild. But the truth is, many animals of different species co-exist peacefully, even having mutually beneficial relationships. When two different kinds of animals work together in symbiotic relationships, it’s known as mutualism. Unlike parasites, both parties get something out of this arrangement. There are so many incredible examples it was hard to narrow it down to just three, but here goes!
These African birds form symbiotic relationships with a number of large mammals. You might have seen, in any number of cartoons, a small bird perched on top of a rhino. That’s an oxpecker, and they also make friends with zebras, wildebeest, antelope and more! The birds, as their name suggests, peck ticks and other parasites off of their host. It keeps the larger animal clean and healthy, and provides the oxpecker with an easy meal. These relationships go beyond free food; the oxpecker will raise the alarm when danger is approaching, which is especially helpful for rhinos with terrible eyesight.
Clownfish and Anemones
Many of you will recognise this from Finding Nemo. Clownfish shelter within anemones, a tentacled sea creature whose stinging neurotoxins the clownfish are immune to. The anemone uses these tentacles to catch and eat small invertebrate, but the brightly-coloured clownfish attracts bigger prey for the anemone to devour. Not only that, but clownfish also help out their tendriled friends by eating up parasites and scaring away potential threats. It’s still unknown why the fish aren’t affected by the anemone’s neurotoxins; it could be due to a layer of mucus on the fish’s body. Either way, these are a great example of symbiotic relationships.
Ravens and Wolves
This is my favourite! Sometimes an unkindness of ravens and a pack of wolves will form symbiotic relationships in the wild that go beyond a mere transactional exchange. Ravens are incredibly intelligent and tactical, and have a great vantage point when it comes to seeking prey. But they’re not as equipped to open up a carcass as wolves are, so they invite them to the hunt. Ravens are often at the sight of a wolf’s kill, and sometimes make off with the majority of the food. It really seems like ravens form a close bond with certain wolves, seeing them more as team members than a free meal ticket. Ravens will play with wolf cubs, engaging in games of tug-of-war and teasing them by holding sticks in the air for them to jump for. Ravens have even been known to tug on a grown wolf’s tail, purely just to cause mischief. Usually, the wolves don’t mind too much.
There are plenty more examples of this kind of relationship: aphids and ants, bats and pitcher plants, sharks and tiny fish. Nature is full of different species working together to survive, and it really shows just how diverse the ecosystem is.