Symbiosis in the Bush


Learn More and Discover More while out in the Bush

Symbiosis in the Bush Explained

Upon visiting game reserves or natural areas for the first time one often is pre occupied by merely trying to find animals and tick species of your ‘most wanted ‘ list of what you hope to see. But if you’re an avid visitor wanting to return for more on a regular basis, then the smaller things are what you will start noticing more.

bush Symbiosis

That may include birds or insects, tracks and signs or perhaps studying the relationships that form between animals, plants, birds and other life forms in their natural environment. Learning about the interrelationships between species and their surroundings is what creates the ‘big picture’ understanding of every life forms importance in the health and functioning of our natural ecosystems. Everything has its role out there, no matter how big or small it may be.

There are a number of relationships that form between species that are easily seen while out on Safari, so let us take a look at some of these to help you notice them the next time you’re out in the bush enjoying nature.

Symbiosis is the term used to describe the inter relationships between organisms, and is classified as the living together in permanent or pro longed close association of members  of usually two different species, with beneficial or negative consequences for at least one of the parties. Symbiotic relationships can take on various forms in nature and there are three main types that occur i.e.

  • Commensalism
  • Mutualism
  • Parasitism

Commensalism is a positive interaction or relationship between two organisms in which one partner benefits and the other is not harmed. A good example of this that is easily seen while out on safari is the relationship between the white Cattle Egret birds that are often seen following and feeding around big game species such as Buffalo herds or Rhinos. As the big animals move through the grass and bush, they disturb insects and flies which the surrounding birds will feed off. They in essence take advantage of the big animals to gain an easy meal, while the big animals are not harmed in any way, nor do they benefit from the relationship.

*Helpful tip: Game rangers often use these birds to find big game species; they are easily identified by their white color at a distance and usually flock together, so watching where they land or take off might indicate the presence of a big animal/s.

symbiosis oxpecker

Mutualism is the relationship between two organisms where both species benefit from the relationship. One of the most well-known examples of this is the relationship between Oxpecker birds and their mammal hosts. One often notices these little birds busily hopping around the bodies of animals such as Giraffes, Buffaloes and Rhinos, but what are they doing? Well they feed off the parasites that occupy the bodies of the larger mammal species, parasites such as ticks, fleas and mites that suck the animals’ blood. So thus these birds are getting a meal from the animals and the animals are being cleaned of their parasites, a relationship that benefits both parties. So look out for these little birds the next time you find a large mammal species and note how they comb through the fur with their bills, extracting parasites from the fur of their hosts.

*Helpful tip: Oxpeckers fly up make a shrill like rasping call when sensing a disturbance, in this way knowing the sound that the Oxpecker makes will allow you to be aware of Big Game species ahead of you in the bush, preventing you from accidentally bumping into them.

Parasitism is a win lose scenario where two organisms interact and results in one party benefiting while the other is negatively affected by the relationship. Probably the most common example of this is that of a blood sucking tick and another animal or even humans. Ticks are arachnids with specialized mouth-parts that are developed for piercing, sucking and gripping food. They are ecto-parasitic, latching on to the bodies and sucking the blood of passing animals that walk through the bush. Most animals, expect for primates perhaps have no appendages or fingers that can successfully remove ticks from the animals’ body, thus once a tick latches on it is very difficult to remove. They suck the blood of the animal, which negatively affects an animal as this now costs extra energy to replace. Ticks may also carry and spread diseases as they pass from one host to another. Thus in this equation, the tick benefits and the animal is negatively affected.

*Helpful tip: While walking through the bush or getting out at picnic areas in game parks, be aware that ticks may be around. They may be found in various forms and sizes depending on the season and are sometimes very hard to see, so be sure to apply an insect repellent to your skin or clothing to help keep them off. A good scrub in the shower after a bush walk will also help to remove these unwanted parasites. Some ticks may carry a strain of bacteria which may result in you contracting ‘tick bite fever’, thus if you experience any flu like symptoms, headaches or stiff neck a few days after being in the bush the best consult your doctor as this is easily treated if caught early enough.

So our ecosystems are very complex and are usually made up of a complex web of interrelationships between organisms, so be aware of these as you go on your way and look out for the interesting ones you can identify, as this will greatly enhance your understanding of nature and add to the enjoyment of your trip. Contact Heritage Tours and Safaris for travel options and their experienced guides will be able to help you identify and understand the complexities of our natural environment.

heritage tours and safarisHeritage Tours & Safaris was established in 2003 and offers a wide variety of day safaris as well as overnight safari packages too Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The company strives to offer the highest quality standards and service at all times. The guides/rangers are passionate about what it is that they offer while out in the bush and with years of experience they are sure to offer you exactly that. For a full list of Day Safaris or Over Night Safari Packages please click on the links below.

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Journey deep into the Bush, sit back and enjoy some of the most amazing scenery in KwaZulu Natal not to mention the abundance of wildlife.

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heritage tours and safarisWe would be delighted should you like to join us on Safari. We depart on Safari daily, why not call us today and we will gladly furnish you with any further information.