Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Picture by triciawd on Flickr
This post is a perfect example of how I get sidetracked and hours go by, just reading blogs and pursuing ideas. It all started when one of the blogs I follow mentioned that she has ants all over her peonies, and she was thinking about trying to find some way to get rid of the ants. It jogged an old memory about peonies and ants being in a symbiotic relationship, that the peonies secrete an irresistible scent to the ants, which crawl all over them and thereby assist in the opening of the blossoms.

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
 At first, Mzee didn't want anything to do with Owen, but Owen followed him around long enough to wear down his resistance. I think that the wise old tortoise recognized a needy soul and took pity on him. From that Wikipedia link about Owen and Mzee (in the caption):
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.


  1. Amazing photos! This is the 1st time I have seen these animals together. What an odd pair! It just goes to show that "beasts" have feelings, too, as I imagine the hippo and tortoise "love" each other and treasure each other's company.

  2. Two wonderful beasts living closely together. It lifts your spirits! Thank you for focusing our thoughts on this and not the two current crises! Now, I'm off to wash my hair and settle down to watch the final of the Dancing with the Stars programme.
    Your research does you proud!
    Blessings, Star

  3. What a great story! We will all remember this concept because you found a wonderful story and photo to illustrate it.

  4. Isn't this a fascinating story, and just goes to show, people and animals from all different walks of life, can bond with each other.
    It's a refreshing example of whats good in this uncertain world we are living in.
    Thank you for sharing with us.

  5. Boy, so did I! Thanks for sharing. We all need someone to hang with, it seems.

  6. What a refreshing story. I love it. Wouldn't it be nice if Democrats and Replublicans could do the same.

    Thanks for posting this. I enjoyed it.

  7. Your research and your pictures are uplifting and I agree with Linda above....the politicians could learn a good lesson from this.

  8. Well, I can see why you get sidetracked. This is cool stuff! And this gardener didn't know about ants and peonies.

  9. That is a heartwarming story, the little hippo is so cute. It reminds me of another story I recently saw about a baby squirrel that was adopted by a mama cat with a kitten. It was cute to watch the kitten and squirrel interact.

  10. This is a wonderful story. I'll have to watch the documentary; their story seems so sweet. It's nice to see that sort of support is found in nature. Everyone can use an uplifting story!

  11. What wonder beauty,beauty,beauty!!!

  12. Great theme. Animal stories are fascinating as long as they are getting along rather than trying to eat each other, but that's the food chain. I just don't like to hear about it. I like the warm and fuzzy stories. I read in the newspaper that coffee grounds spread around the base of plants will discourage ants. I have found it keeps them away from the base of the shepherd's hook where I hang my hummingbird feeder.

  13. I can't link to the story right now but will be back to and to watch video of it. I've heard of them and thought how unlikely and, therefore, even more meaningful their relationship is. Thank you for bringing it to us sweet DJan!

    I think we, in the blogging world, also have a type of symbiosis. We could say we write for ourselves and sometimes that's true. But we also feel the pressure to get that writing out there and then we hope it is well received. When it's not, or it's slow, our petals open more slowly and sometimes not at all. Any one who has ever written a book did not do it to have a volume only for themselves. They do not dream of their magnum opus languishing on a shelf. It all works together. That's why we also visit. We learn, we celebrate, we grieve, we pray, we laugh. We connect. What would we do without each other?

  14. I for one am always glad to see when friendships can be solid and not held back because of outward appearances.

  15. Awww....this story gives me the warm fuzzies!!!! Love it!!! Aren't they just so wonderful??? I love it! And I'm so glad that blogger didn't know about peonies and ants as it inspired such a WONDERFUL post by YOU!!! Hope your week is as great as you are!!! Love you! Janine XO

  16. Speak of going on a tangent and producing such a wonderful post. You have taught symbiosis so well to adults and school age children. They would love this.

  17. I looked at the site. The pictures are so cute. I saw a blackbird which had bonded like that with a kitten. It does make you feel good about life (as long as you stay away from the national news!)

  18. I missed the news today..but it will probably be the same tomorrow..your story about symbiosis was great. I have seen Peony buds tight as a drum dry up because there were no ants to help them out. The happiest Peonies have ants..and the church ladies used to shake the peonies violently outside before taking them into the church on Sunday mornings:)

  19. I like the story of Owen and Mzee, it reminds me of the kitty and the dog that I adopted, they were so inseparable. Great post DJ, I learned a lot from it especially about "symbiosis".


  20. I knew about the peony and the ant but I didn't know about the turtle and the hippo which is my kind of story. One more step back and you got a cowbird using another bird to set her egg and raise the chick as her own. A big old baby cowbird being fed by a tiny chipping sparrow is really an eyeopener. I photographed this relationship as it played out and the cowbird was weaned or whatever they call this in birds.

    Two doctors to see today. I hope I am better soon.

  21. Boy--did it ever give me a boost too!! lol

    Thanks for the info about my ant magnets..I was too lazy to look it up, but I had heard that before, thinking (like Hope said) that it was an old wives tale.

    Of course..old wives know a LOT.

    (BTW--I have had my ears candled too. It was a trip!!)

  22. Ah if only different cultures and countries could learn the same thing. We'd be a better world for it. Lovely story, warms the heart.

  23. I always find something I like here (o:
    I keep checking my peony for ants
    it just appeared in my yard this year???
    my friend told me about the ants
    I have none...so I was worried...I guess it will work anyway (o:
    My little granddaughters love the story about the hippo and tortoise
    we found it on PBS...now I will checkout your link
    I keep watching the eagles (o:

  24. Hey,

    I have a inquiry for the webmaster/admin here at djanstewart.blogspot.com.

    May I use part of the information from your blog post above if I provide a backlink back to this site?


  25. Of course, Harry. The only way I can answer you is to post a comment myself, as you left no other way for me to respond.

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