10 Examples of Animal Species Working Together in the Wild

These partnerships show how animals rely on one another to survive

Ostriches in a desert with zebras in the background

romkaz / Getty Images

It's hard out there for a wild animal, which is why some have come to work together toward the common goal of finding a meal or guarding against predators. These kind of relationships in nature are known as symbiosis. In biology, symbiosis describes any interaction between two biological organisms that is mutualistic, commensalistic, or parasitic.

In the case of the plover that picks food out of crocodile mouths and the Colombian tarantula and frog that burrow together, the partnerships are mutualistic, beneficial for both parties. Here are 10 surprising examples of mutualistic symbiosis in the wild.

of 10

Water Buffalo and Cattle Egrets

Cattle egrets riding on water buffalo's back in the grass

Laura Hedien / Getty Images

Cattle egrets live on insects. And in the savannah, insects happen to congregate on the ubiquitous water buffalo. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, you'll find these birds constantly perched atop buffalo backs. They scoop up the insects that the buffalo kick up from the grass and earn free rides by picking harmful fleas and ticks off their hosts.

As a bonus, cattle egrets also have a heightened sense of danger and are able to alert the water buffalo if danger is near.

of 10

Carrion Beetles and Mites

Close-up of carrion beetle covered in mites on a twig

Goldfinch4ever / Getty Images

As their name suggests, carrion beetles eat dead animals. They also lay their eggs there so that their larvae can eat the meat as they develop. But they aren't the only insects that do this, and often times, faster-developing larvae will gobble up young carrion beetles to reduce competition.

That's where mites come in. Carrion beetles will carry these tiny arachnids on their backs, giving them a free ride and access to food, and in exchange, the mites swarm the dead meat, eating the eggs and larvae that don't belong to their host beetle.

of 10

Ostriches and Zebras

Two zebras and an ostrich in the desert

Robert C Nunnington / Getty Images

Because zebras and ostriches are prey for faster animals, they must both maintain a heightened sense of alertness for danger. The problem is that zebras—while they have excellent eyesight—don't have a great sense of smell. Ostriches, on the other hand, have a great sense of smell but poor eyesight. 

And so the two work together to stay alert to predators, relying on the eyes of the zebra and the noses of the ostriches.

of 10

Colombian Lesserblack Tarantulas and Humming Frogs

Upon first seeing a humming frog coexist with the big, scary Colombian lesserblack tarantula, you might just assume that the frog tastes bad. But there's more to this unexpected mutualistic relationship than that. 

These specific species of spider and frog have been found in the same area, and even living in the same burrows as one another. The frogs use the spiders for protection from predators and food (they usually get the leftovers from the tarantulas' meals), and in return, the frogs eat ants and other insects that might otherwise feast on the tarantula's precious eggs.

of 10

Egyptian Crocodiles and Plovers

Another highly unlikely and frankly mindboggling mutualistic relationship is the one that exists between plovers and Egyptian crocodiles. These relatively puny wading birds boldly perch at the opening of crocs' mouths and pick food from their razor-sharp teeth. Yes, really.

Even more surprising is that the crocodiles allow the birds to forage for scraps in their mouths because it keeps their teeth clean and healthy. After all, a crocodile's teeth are its most useful quality.

of 10

Honey Badgers and Honeyguides

As their name implies, honeyguides are birds that love honey. But they have a hard time accessing the sweet substance when it's inside a beehive. So, they hang with honey badgers, mammals that like honey as much as they do. They lead their mammalian friends to beehives and the honey badgers do the dirty work of breaking it open for both species to enjoy a sugary snack.

of 10

Pistol Shrimp and Gobies

Pistol shrimp and yellownose prawn gobi on sea floor
Getty Images/Franco Banfi

Pistol shrimp are fierce predators that can snap their claws together so tightly that a jet of water shoots out. So, why would gobies willingly go near them? Well, for as good as they are at catching prey, the shrimp are also very vulnerable to predators themselves because of their bad eyesight.

Gobies, it turns out, have great eyesight. They act as seeing-eye fish for the shrimp, keeping their tail fins in contact with the shrimp's antennae to easily signal when danger is near. In return, the gobies get free access to the pistol shrimps' burrows so that they can both hide from predators.

of 10

Clownfish and Sea Anemones

Close-up of clownfish hiding in sea anemone

Robin Maltete / Getty Images

Clownfish often hide from danger within the tentacles of sea anemones. You may know that sea anemones sting, but the clownfish secrete a substance that protects them and allows them to touch anemones without consequence. In return, the clownfish attract prey for their hosts. They also help rid the stationary cnidarians of harmful parasites and chase away predators like butterflyfish.

of 10

Coyotes and Badgers

Coyote and badger standing together on a plain

Ryan Moehring / USFWS / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Here's a rare example of mutualism in the U.S.: coyotes and badgers. You might have seen photos of this surprising pairing traveling together in the night or walking side by side through a sunny plain. Both are incredible hunters, but the coyote gets into a bind when its prey seeks refuge underground. Badgers, being superior diggers, can better access below-ground dwellers, and when they do, the two species share the meal.

of 10

Meerkats and Drongos

As shown in David Attenborough's "Africa," the songbirds known as drongos have a relationship with meerkats that benefits both parties, though never at once. A rare example of bird-mammal mutualism, the drongo will keep an eye out for predators as the meerkats hunt. When the drongo sounds an alarm, the meerkats make a run for it, often dropping their prey en route to safety.

Naturally, the drongo scoops up their abandoned prey and has even resorted to sounding false alarms or mimicking meerkat warning calls to get an extra meal.

View Article Sources