Nature never fails to surprise us. It is often enough a gladiatorial arena among species, but some of the coolest and most intimate relationships may also live with, on or inside the body of the other, and sometimes even within its cells. Both organisms may benefit, only one, or sometimes neither, much as in human affairs. Developed through co-evolution and reciprocal adaptations over millions of years, such symbiotic bonding among plants, animals, humans, and microbes take many weird forms. Here are 10 of them.
The Sea Slug
Think slug. Slimy and squidgy creatures come to mind. Not so the gorgeous sea slug, nature’s beauty queen. This is one slug who struts her stuff in the waters off the east coast of the United States and Canada. It is green colored, the leaf-shaped body is wonderfully lit by photosynthesis, the same process plants use to derive energy. The sea slug steals its source of energy by a process called keleptoplasty from algae, and then it needs no other food to save sunlight, allowing this beauty to lie in the vegetation all day, photosynthesize like plants, and still live the beautiful life of a trophy slug.
Long before human beings ever put a seed in the ground, some 99 million years ago during the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic era, leafcutter ants took to farming the fungi they live on. Organized in the most complex way possible, ants built ant-cities founded on a division of labor. Technical types strip leaves from a tree in hours. Tough worker ants drag the nourishment back to the colony, where a production team of other ants chews them into a paste. These are not your vegetarian ants at a salad bar. All the green goes into the fungus garden where soldier ants mount vigilant guard over the colony’s dinner—tasty fungi. Cultivating bumper crops of fungi requires all that a complex system of agriculture. To our shame, aunts are environmentally conscious, a community dump for waste, and a regard for the environment that allowed Leaf Cutter Ants empires to prosper over centuries, building colonies on fallen human empires that laid waste to its environment.
The Crocodile And The Plover
Have you ever looked into a crocodile’s mouth and found a bird happily at home among those sharp teeth? The Ancients had, and modern photographers recorded it. The crocodile, having had lunch, may simply wallow lazily in the mud of a riverbank, its mouth wide open. Soon a plover emerges and flies right into those fearsome jaws to be a toothpick to the reptile kingdom, flossing the teeth while feeding itself on the meat particles stuck between the teeth. In addition to this dental service, the plover shrieks at any danger that would send the crocodile back to the water and the plover dental hygienist to the skies for safety.
Sea Anemone And The Hermit Crab
The sea anemone has a neat trick to catch its food. Although it is actually a marine animal, it looks like a flower spreading its inviting tendrils, weaving in the water. Bad mistake for any fish to mistake poisonous tentacles for vegetation. A shot of venom, the tentacles reach out, and then it is over the gum and into the tum... But there is only so much opportunity tied like a barnacle to a rock, and so a sea anemone hitches a ride on the first traveling hermit crab to come by. What does the hermit crab get out of it? Remember those tentacles that look like tendrils-- protection. The seafloor is one tough neighborhood after all. You need a stand-up buddy, regardless of the species.
Myrmecophiles Or Ant Lovers
Some relationships are best managed by stealth. Fossil findings indicate that the fiercely protected ant colonies had an unwanted guest that ants have not been aware of since the Cretaceous era when both came into existence, like two unlikely peas in a pod. This is the hustle of centuries. Ant Lovers are nature’s con artists. An ant colony has plenteous food supplies, but also highly trained guards well able to defend a million-strong colony against predators Myrmecophiles carry out complex social signals and chemical emissions to move right in unobserved and support an easy, laid back lifestyle living off the hard-working ants and reaping the benefits of a safe environment and plenty of food.
Emerald Cockroach Wasps
Emerald Cockroach Wasps are monogamous, so when they need a womb to bring forth their young, they look for a specific type of cockroach that the female will sting into paralysis First the legs, then a precision strike to paralyze the brain and keep the body alive. The cockroach is now at her mercy, and become nature’s maternity ward. The emerald cockroach wasp gently places an egg in the zombie cockroach’s abdomen. She buries the cockroach underground. A child is born. A wasp larva rises and eats the roach`s still live body as baby food. Finally, the larva, having completed its metamorphosis into an adult wasp, emerges a new member of the emerald cockroach wasp community.
Male Orchid Bees (Euglossine Bees)
Bees are after different things from different flowers. We are talking love-making now. Male orchid bees collect perfume from tropical orchids, and turn this into chemical signals called pheromones said to be the mojo of the bee in need of female company. The Orchid Bee gathers in phrenomes from orchid flowers to storage sacs on the back legs. First, the bee in scooping up the love potion brings pollen to orchids and orchids to high school graduations. This process is vital for orchid reproduction. What orchid bees do with their perfume-based pheromones belongs to their Dating Game. The males gather in the trunk of a tree, let off clouds of phenomes, and buzz about nervously waiting for the females to arrive. Then the party is on.
The Goby Fish And Pistol Shrimp
The shrimp is nearly blind and needs to cover its back against its many predators. Enter the shrimp's buddy and roommate, the Goby Fish. They share the hole the shrimp digs and the shrimp finds in small fish food for both. They lead quiet lives. Pistol shrimp takes a cut riding shotgun. Danger comes. The shrimp is blind. The Goby fish springs into action touches the shrimp’s tail and both take cover together. In humans as among aquatic life, a friend in need is a friend indeed.
Birds in the wild and human beings had with one exception very little use for each other. Then there is the Honeyguide of the African forest. Humans and birds can be as symbiotic as the rest of nature, and without any need of a cage. If you get lost in the African bush, go native. Just follow the nearest Honeybird, which lets off a special call to lead you to a beehive. The call changes when you get closer, and changes again when you are on the spot. Be sure to start a fire. The smoke calms the bees, allowing for a harvest of honey. Needless to say, honeyguide birds get their cut.
Cymothoa exigua, Or The Tongue-eating Louse,
You might not think a fish’s tongue is a fantastic place to hang out, but then you are not a tongue-eating louse. Cymothoa exigua is the psychopath of the natural world, the parasitic isopod of the family no one wants to talk about, and still less fisherman to find in the mouth of their catch. This louse enters fish through the gills. A heavy made-for-adults scene follows. The female grabs the tongue and the male attaches on the gill arches beneath and behind the female. They begin by severing the blood vessels in the fish's tongue, causing the tongue to fall off. The pair attach themselves to the tongue and become the fish's tongue, the only known organism to do the like. There in the mouth of the snapper newly caught the tongue-eating louse.
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