Friday, May 30, 2008

The Symbiotic Relationship Of The Oxpecker & Its Host

On the prairies of Africa and the deltas of India and the pastures of America there are large animals and small annoying bugs. Flies buzz mercilessly around the heads of horses and cattle. Zebras are plagued by black flies and midges. With little more than a tail for a swatter the insect bombardment must drive these creatures to distraction, however, some relief is at hand in the form of avian symbiotes.

We're going to focus on one particular relationship—that of the Oxpecker and its large mammal host. Oxpeckers are medium-sized birds that feed on ticks. Ticks are a type of parasitic symbiotes, and use host animals for their own gain and offer no benefits in return. Ticks can be quite dangerous to their hosts, spreading disease and, in large numbers, causing anemia and anorexia due to blood loss.

antelope and oxpeckers
An antelope gets a "cleaning" from oxpeckers
Oxpeckers hitch a ride on zebras, giraffes, water buffalo, antelope and numerous other foraging ungulates (hoofed mammals). They traverse their host from nose to tail tip, top to bottom, in search of gorging ticks. The bird deftly plucks them from the mammal's hide, even cleaning ears, and feasts on the unwanted parasites. Another "I clean you, you feed me" relationship.

Oxpecker on water buffalo
An oxpecker sits atop its host, a large water buffalo.

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