Sunday, June 1, 2008

Symbiosis - Badgers and Birds

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Jungle Jane. Do mutually beneficial symbiotic relationships always involve cleaning?" And I answer, "No." We have been looking at symbiotic relationships that are considered mutualistic—each species benefiting from the other. A lot of these happen to be of the "cleaning" variety, especially among fish. The type of symbiosis we'll look at today is called Commensalism, meaning, "at table together."

My favorite example of this symbiotic relationship is the cooperation found between the Honeyguide bird, a small, dull-colored bird, and the Ratel, also known as the Honey Badger. I'm sure you've caught the similar word in their names and yes, the sweet stuff happens to be their treat of choice. Both the honeyguide and the ratel prefer honey, combs, bees and larvae to just about anything else. Problem is, alone neither is really up to the task of procuring it. The honeyguide can find a bee hive, but hasn't the size or strength to take on the multitudes within. The ratel is like other badgers, tough and strong with sharp, raking claws. The ratel can certainly break into a hive; it just can't find one easily. Once a honeyguide finds a hive, it starts looking for a honey badger. Making a clattering fuss, the bird gets the badger's attention and starts a slow, flitting process back towards the hive, making sure the badger is following. There is not doubt, that the honeybird is leading the ratel. Once there, the ratel decimates the hive, tearing it to pieces and feasting on the goodies within. The honeyguide bird usually waits until the badger's frenzy is done before helping itself to the left-over wax, honey and larvae.

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