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02 Feb, 2023
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Interesting Natural Relationships

Interesting Natural Relationships – Article by Gareth Jones

Interesting Natural Relationships Within The Nairobi National Park

We observed a large herd of buffalo drinking water and wallowing at the Embakasi dam, however, I was fascinated by the presence of many red-billed and yellow-billed oxpeckers. As we sat quietly the oxpeckers moved all over the buffalo bodies looking for delicious parasitic snacks like ticks and lice.

A close ecological relationship involving two or more species that can benefit all parties is known
as symbiotic mutualism. It can also benefit one party without affecting the others this is called
commensalism, or help one while harming the others called parasitism. The relationship between the buffalo and the tick-bird hovers somewhere between mutualism and parasitism because the
tick-birds seems to derive greater benefit from the relationship than the buffalo.

Red-billed & yellow-billed oxpeckers have long been thought to remove ticks from their hosts to the benefit of both—the bird eats the ticks, and the host is relieved of blood-sucking, disease-carrying parasites, however, oxpeckers can also aggressively bore into wounds on animals to access blood. A secondary benefit to a host from the tick-bird’s presence is a sort of early warning system since the birds make a hissing sound if they sight an enemy. This is of less benefit to the buffalo than to other hosts if the buffalos are in a large protective herd.

Another example of mutualism is the relationship between crocodiles and Egyptian plovers, the
crocodile leaves its mouth open while basking on the shore, and the bird walks in and picks bits of rotting flesh from between the croc’s teeth; the plover gets food and the croc gets a cleaner mouth. The determining factor of mutualism is consent: the crocodile does not have to open its mouth for the bird. However, crocodiles appear to know that the birds benefit hygiene in their mouths.

Another somewhat indirect relationship involves guineafowl and their role in the reduction of ticks. It can even be said that guineafowls are one of the best friends that lions could ever have, even though the lions are completely unaware of the benefit they have from the actions of guineafowl.

So next time you are in the park be on the lookout for species that have interesting natural symbiotic relationships.


Gareth Jones – Nairobi Park Diary – A passionate writer & photographer
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