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10 Unusual Examples of Mutualism Observed in the Animal Kingdom

6. Ocellaris clownfish and Ritter’s sea anemones share a mutual symbiosis relationship. Clownfish drive off butterflyfish in exchange for a safe home.

Clownfish and sea anemone
Image credits: Pixabay

The partnership between a clownfish and sea anemone is another perfect example of an unusual animal relationship. A look at anemones will make you think that they are plants. However, they are animals of the same species as jellyfish and corals. The sea anemone’s tentacles sting and produce venom. The venom helps protect them from predators. Clownfish, on the other hand, are vulnerable to predatory animals, so to save itself, clownfish finds its way in between the anemone’s tentacles. However, getting past the stinging tentacles can be quite challenging for the clownfish. The clownfish has a thick layer of mucus that protects it from the sea anemones venom. To add, the reason why the clownfish doesn’t savor the tentacles is the fear of being struck. Anemones provide security and a home. The clownfish, on the other hand, scares away the butterflyfish.

Also, clownfish help supply anemone with fresh oxygen by moving around within the tentacles increasing the flow of water. To add, the clownfish’s waste which is rich in ammonia helps fertilize the anemone. Research shows that it is only 10% of 10,000 anemone species have mutual relationships with 26 species of clownfish. (123)

7. The Goby fish and a blind species of shrimp have a symbiotic relationship. The goby helps the shrimp find its way around to get food and alerts the shrimp in case of danger, while the shrimp works to build their shared home.

Goby fish and Shrimp
Image credits: Aquayee

The mutual relationship between the goby fish and the pistol shrimp is that of a housekeeper and a watchman. goby fish have excellent eyesight but are very poor at making a home because it has no claws. Pistol shrimp, on the other hand, have fantastic claws that help it dig and maintain burrows in the sea bed, but, have very poor eyesight. 

While the shrimp are busy tending to their burrow, The goby watches over for any danger and alerts the shrimp. Pistol shrimp allows the goby fish to live in their hole in exchange for security — a win-win for both. Ideally, when the shrimp are busy digging, they leave their long antennae attached to the Goby fish. When Goby darts back to safety, the pistol shrimp get alerted. (12)

8. Giant moray eels get cleaned by a Bluestreak cleaner wrasse. The Bluestreak cleaner wrasse gets food from the eel’s skin.

Giant moray eels dine on crustaceans and octopuses and usually hunt at night. An average eel can grow up to three meters. Its inability to remove the dead skin and parasites from its surface puts the eel at risk of diseases. This is where the Bluestreak cleaner wrasse comes in. And the cleaning process is quite fascinating. First, the giant morays trip a cleaning station where they will find the cleaner wrasse ready to do their job. The morays are welcomed with a dance by the wrasse. Once the giant moray is convinced it offers itself up for some squeaky cleanup exercise.

The Bluestreak cleaner wrasse eats the dead skin and parasites on the eel’s skin leaving it clean and free from bacteria. The wrasse gets food, and in return, offers cleaning services to the giant moray eel. The healthy skin makes the eel happy. (12)

 9. Honey hunters in Africa rely on honeyguides to find beehives. The hunters will harvest the honey from the hive and leave the wax and larvae for the honeyguide.

Honey guides and Humans
Image credits: Claire Spottiswoode/NPR

As the name suggests, “honeyguides” are birds who guide humans to beehives. This type of relationship is a one-of-a-kind mutualism between humans and birds. Honey hunters will signal the honeyguides using a special and unique vocal sound. The honeyguide knows its way around the jungle and knows the exact location of the honey. Research shows that the honeyguides use unique vocal sounds to invite the honey hunters for a hunt. Humans, on the other hand, have a special way of inviting the honeyguides for a hunt. The bird will guide the hunter to the beehive who will then cut down the tree and harvest the honey leaving the wax and larva. 

The honeyguide will scavenge on the wax and larva, and both parties are happy. The honey hunter gets honey, and the honeyguide gets wax and larvae for food. Research shows that a hunter guided by this bird has a 60% higher success rate of finding honey than one without a honeyguide. (12)

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10. Sharks and the Remora fish have a symbiotic relationship where the remora fish eats parasites on the sharks’ skin hence cleaning the shark.

Sharks and the Remora fish are one of the fascinating pair of collaborators in the animal kingdom. The two animals have a symbiotic relationship that’s likely to continue for centuries. The remora has a suction cup-like a unique organ on their heads. They use this organ to attach themselves onto the sharks. Once attached, the remora will begin to eat parasites on the shark’s skin. It will also pick up leftover food from the shark’s mouth. In addition to free and easy to get food, the remora also enjoys a free ride along the way. Sharks, on the other hand, enjoy this relationship as it helps them get cleaned and irritating parasites kept at bay.

The research found out that the sharks value the remoras to the extent that they will stop to allow the remoras to attach. The remoras help in keeping the water clean by eating scraps from the shark. (1, 2)

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