Darwinism has always proposed a kind of competitive striving for survival…an adaptive arms race as it were…in nature. Survival of the fittest…natural selection…are all fundamental to our understanding of the complexities of ecology.
Symbiosis is possibly one of the most fascinating of these phenomena as it highlights some truly incredible partnerships…often between the most unlikely of species…as they strive to prosper in the harshness of an unforgiving wilderness.
Many are familiar with the wrasse that cleans external bacteria from a variety of oceanic game fish or the remora that does much the same for several species of shark. The shark is cleaned of troublesome ectoparasites while the remora acquires a meal…and protection.
The oxpecker, a starling relative does a similar day’s work removing ticks and other bothersome creepy crawlies from the hides of large African ungulates like buffalo and giraffe. The birds feast on a veritable smorgasbord while the mammal in question receives a grooming…and a built in avian warning system should something untoward be approaching. The oxpecker also uses hair from the host animal as nesting material. A pretty well-structured deal all round.
What about the unlikely pairing of bustard and bee-eater? While an enormous and imposing Kori Bustard stalks through the grasslands of an African savannah in search of something to eat…Carmine Bee-eaters can often be seen hitching a ride on the bustard’s back. As the larger bird disturbs insects in its wake, the bee-eater will hawk them from the air before alighting again on a most unlikely steed.
There are so many more examples of these interlocking relationships, some mutually beneficial, some parasitic and detrimental.
One of the most bizarre must surely be between goshawk and honey badger in the dunescapes of the Kgalagadi. Badgers are well known diggers and will often burrow furiously in search of a mouse or larger subterranean meal. Many desert rodents construct escape hatches to their underground real estate and will often depart out the “back door”. Pale Chanting Goshawk are familiar with this scenario and will patiently sit on a low bush waiting for the badger to inadvertently expose the next meal. While game viewing in this particular African wilderness…keep an eye open for goshawks perched low to the ground…the inevitable badger will soon show itself.