Can you imagine how your life might be without your best friend? Who would laugh at your terrible jokes or have your back any time you got into trouble? As humans, we rely heavily on friends for support, companionship and even when we want to kick back and have some fun. In fact, whether in social or professional spheres, it is generally accepted that forming strong bonds and partnerships with one another can often bring about positive results.
But did you know that such partnerships are also formed throughout the animal kingdom - and not just within a single species? Some creatures forge lifelong relationships with entirely different organisms in order to get through their days just a little easier. These types of alliances are known scientifically as symbiotic relationships, which can be separated into three different types: commensalism, mutualism, and parasitism.
Commensalism is a type of symbiotic relationship between two different animal species whereby only one of them benefits. The other is neither helped nor harmed. The opposite of commensalism is parasitism, which involves one organism gaining from the inter-species relationship, but to the detriment of its host. Ticks are a well-known example of a parasite. Mutualism is the win-win form of symbiotic relationships, with both partners benefiting.
Below, I will introduce you to some of the most weird and unlikely examples of symbiotic relationships within the animal kingdom.
Nile Crocodile and Egyptian Plover
The Nile crocodile is well-known for being hyper-aggressive whenever an uninvited visitor steps into their territory. However, there is one creature that the scaly reptilians will not only tolerate, but practically welcome into their aquatic domain. Incredibly, the Egyptian Plover aka “Crocodile Bird” will fly into the crocodile’s open mouth and feed upon the decomposing meat stuck between their teeth. The plover gets a not so scrumptious meal while the crocodile gets a little free dental work!
Sharks and Pilot Fish
Similar to the mutualistic relationship between Nile crocodiles and Egyptian plovers, many species of shark have established an unlikely alliance with pilot fish. While the pilot fish helps to rid the shark of parasites and clean away fragments of food caught between their teeth, it benefits from protection against other predators. The companionship between these two species is said to be so strong that there are even tales of distressed pilot fish following trawler vessels months after catching “their” shark.
Coyote and Badger
Back on to dry land and let's take a closer look at the unlikely coalition between coyotes and badgers. With speed being their main predatory tactic, coyotes usually rely on open environments to pursue and kill their prey. However, badgers are diggers, capturing their prey whilst resting in their subterranean burrows. In some parts of North America, coyotes have been observed waiting outside burrows for ground squirrels fleeing from an attacking badger. While both parties rarely benefit from any one hunt, the badger also enjoys success thanks to this unlikely relationship. Sensing the danger posed by the coyote, some animals remain in their burrows, allowing the badger a greater opportunity to catch them.
Hermit Crabs and Sea Anemones
Another unlikely marine pairing is that of hermit crabs and sea anemones. By poking the anemone with its pincers and holding it in place, the crab encourages it to attach to its shell. While the anemone bags itself a free ride across the seabed upon the hermit crab's back, they effectively serve as bodyguards, providing shelter and using their barbed tentacles to actively fend off hungry hermit predators.
Colombian Lesserblack Tarantula and Dotted Humming Frog
It might seem odd to think that a creature as sinister-looking as a tarantula could form a symbiotic relationship with an animal it could easily kill and eat. But that is exactly the case in this odd partnership between the Colombian lesserblack tarantula and dotted humming frog of South America. In fact, the large creepy crawly even allows the tiny frog to share its burrow! While the plucky little amphibian enjoys protection from fierce predators, the spider benefits from the frog devouring carnivorous ants that attack and eat the tarantula’s eggs.
Drongos and Meerkats
This incredible partnership between bird and mammal was made famous in the BBC wildlife documentary “Africa” hosted by the legendary David Attenborough. The drongo serves as a lookout for hunting meerkats, giving a warning cry whenever a predator is within the vicinity. Upon hearing the alarm, the spirited little mammals scuttle back to their burrows, often dropping any prey they have captured in order to speed up their escape. Most of the calls made by the drongo are genuine. However, the mischievous drongo has learned that by raising false alarms, it can swoop down and pick up a free meal dropped by a fleeing meerkat. A master of mimicry, the drongo has even been witnessed making warning calls made by meerkats!