5 amazing symbiotic animal relationships you didn't know about
Different animals species help each other hunt, clean and protect themselves from predators.
You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours, say plenty of animals. Different animal species help each other out all the time in the wild, using their distinct skills to get things they both want, a phenomenon called "symbiotic relationships." Here are some of the coolest animal friendships we discovered.
Grey wolves and striped hyenas hunt together
Hyenas are taught to be tough by their parents and siblings. (Photo: njsphotography/Shutterstock)
Even though hyenas normally hunt alone, scientists were surprised to discover hyenas hunting in wolf packs in southern Israel this year.
“Animal behavior is often more flexible than described in textbooks,” said Vladimir Dinets, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, who coauthored the study. “When necessary, animals can abandon their usual strategies and learn something completely new and unexpected. It’s a very useful skill for people, too.”
Hyenas get to take advantage of wolves' impressive hunting skills. Wolves, meanwhile, make use of hyenas' strong sense of smell and ability to break large bones, rip through garbage and open tin cans.
Crabs carry venomous sea urchins on their backs
The seas are a whole different world. In this video, an urchin crab (it's called that because it does this so often) carries a fire sea urchin on its back through Indonesian waters. Crabs often carry sea urchins, some of them poisonous.
It sounds a little crazy, but there are benefits to having dangerous friends: they can protect you. By carrying around sea urchins, crabs can hide from predators and even use urchins as weapons. The urchins, meanwhile, get free rides.
Honeyguide birds lead people to beehives
The honeyguide bird, which lives in Africa, lets off a special call, alerting local indigenous peoples called the Hazda. When the Hazda start following, the bird leads them to a beehive. Her call changes when they get closer, letting people know they're getting hotter.
Why alert people like this? Well, humans are really good at a little thing called fire. By smoking out beehives, people calm bees, making them less likely to sting. This allows the Hazda to gather delicious honey for 15-20 minutes. They leave scraps of honeycomb for the honeyguide birds to finish off, making the hunt a good deal for both humans and birds.
"It's the most developed, co-evolved, mutually helpful relationship between any mammal and any bird," said anthropologist Richard Wrangham.
Oxpecker birds eat ticks on zebras' coats
Nobody likes to be covered in ticks, not even zebras. So these large mammals are happy when oxpecker birds hang out on their backs, eating the ticks and parasites that annoy zebras. The zebras are free from pesky pests, and the birds get delicious meals.
But wait! There's more! When the birds sense danger, they let out a warning call, alerting their four-hooved friends. Talk about a useful partnership.
Crocodiles let Egyptian plover birds pick leeches off their gums
Nobody knows for sure if this is a myth, but people have been talking about it for thousands of years: crocodiles are said to open their mouths and let Egyptian plover birds pick leeches off their gums, cleaning their teeth and keeping them free from infections. Crocodiles are a "bite first, ask questions later" kind of species, so if this really happens, it's pretty remarkable.
Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, was the first to write about this odd couple. Some sources say it has never been observed in nature, and the photographs and videos portraying it are fake. Then again, a good deal of people claim to have seen it, so the jury's out on this one.
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