Symbiotic Relationships in Nature
Is there a more iconic duo than The Lion King’s Timon and Pumbaa? These two plucky characters are the absolute best of friends who are there for each other through thick and thin. Timon, the wise-cracking little Meerkat, is the brains of the operation and Pumbaa, the “big-boned” warthog, is the brawn.
Together they have a mutually beneficial symbiotic partnership which, while inspirational, is rather unusual. In the wild, we certainly do see symbiotic relationships between unlikely pairings but this meerkat and warthog coupling is a Disney creation. If you would like to learn more about some real-life unusual pairings, read below…
Nile Crocodile and Plover Bird
Crocodiles have the strongest bite force out of all the animals, when their jaws snap shut their sharp teeth tear through flesh and the sheer pressure of their jaws can crush bones. It would make perfect sense then that smaller animals stay as far away as possible from these death traps. However there is one incredibly brave species of bird who takes this risk willingly, and astoundingly the Nile crocodile just lets it.
Egyptian Plover birds fearlessly peck at the teeth of the crocodile picking off decaying meat, remnants from a previous meal. The crocodiles simply lay there with their mouth open enjoying the dental cleaning. A clear case of two animals putting aside their differences so that they can both benefit.
Zebras and Oxpeckers
What’s a pirate without a parrot on his shoulder? The peg-legged plunderer and his feathered friend is a staple in any book or film about sordid adventures on the high seas. Now you may be wondering, what do Zebras and pirates have in common, but they too have struck up an unlikely friendship with a colourful bird.
In this case, it’s Oxpeckers who perch on the Zebras back, neck or bum and nibble up ticks and parasites that otherwise annoy the black and white striped distant relative of a horse. The Oxpecker is fed and the Zebra healthy and happy.
Elephants and Baboons
The savanna can be a dry and arid place, with water sources few and far between. Elephants are able to use their great tusks to dig into the ground and create a makeshift waterhole to quench their thirst. Baboons have cottoned on this fact and when they are feeling particularly parched, will follow the elephants around waiting for their turn at the life-sustaining liquid source. As a way of showing their gratitude, they will act as watchdogs and alert the elephants to any potential danger with loud whoops and screeches.
As you can see, in all these partnerships it’s a case of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” and while in real life warthogs and meerkats do not have this kind of relationship you may be surprised to discover that they do however have it with mongooses. In this video, watch how a warthog seeks out a group of mongooses so that they can give him a much-needed grooming session (picking out nits).
If you’d like a chance to witness these unlikely pairings and discover even more, why not book a Journey to the Pride Lands tour?