|Picture by triciawd on Flickr|
In researching this, I found the above picture of a symbiotic relationship most of us have heard about: the birds take the parasites off the gazelle and consume them, while the gazelle looks on as if to say, "Thanks, guys! I feel so much better now." But let's go back to the peonies and the ants for a minute. I found this website about their relationship. Here's an excerpt:
Some people dislike the peony flower due to the fact that they have a symbiotic relationship with black ants. In early spring, the peony buds will secret a small amount of nectar, which attracts the ant. The ants will then pull slightly at the peony petals to get to the nectar. This helps to loosen the peony's petals and makes it easier for the flower to open. The ants are not absolutely necessary to helping peonies bloom, but they are helpful and do not harm anything. Most gardening experts advise against trying to kill the ants.It turns out that there are several different kinds of symbiosis. (This is why I've been swimming around in this black hole, reading about this or that fascinating side of symbiosis and going to my favorite site (Wikipedia) for more information.) The real problem came when I discovered the story of Owen and Mzee. I remembered learning a little about this symbiotic relationship a few years ago.
Owen is a baby hippo who was orphaned during the Indian Ocean tsunami. He was found alone and dehydrated and was placed in a wildlife sanctuary in Mombasa. He immediately began to follow around a 130-year-old giant tortoise named Mzee (which means "old man" in Swahili). Well, in researching this wonderful story, I found that this particular kind of symbiosis is called commensalism, where two different species live in close proximity to one another, to the benefit of one and without disturbing the other.
|Owen and Mzee in 2006|
Owen immediately bonded to Mzee and would crouch behind him. However, Mzee initially resisted Owen's overtures. Over time, the old tortoise came to accept the young hippo, who began to mimic his adoptive parent. Gradually, Mzee taught Owen, who was a nursing calf, what to eat and where to sleep. In the first year, the two became inseparable companions who ate, slept, swam, and played together. Owen often played with the old tortoise by jumping on Mzee's back, scratching the old tortoise on the neck, and in many other ways. They surprised scientists with the strength of what appeared to be a genuine bond, as well as with the unique vocal communication that developed between them.That just made my day, learning about them. They even have their own website, complete with documentary videos and links to several media articles about them. I also found this wonderful page which describes examples of symbiosis in action, which has more delightful pictures of this unlikely couple.
Given the news of the day, and the weight of the world as it hung around my neck this morning, I needed this. I hope it will give you a lift as well.