In a very rudimentary way, teamwork is the foundation of civilization. People coming together for their mutual benefit is what allowed us to grow beyond simple foragers in the wild and develop cities, economies, agriculture, religion and even language. It’s worked pretty well for us as a species. And sometimes it even works beyond our species.
10. Killer Whales Hunted With Humans
It’s been speculated that dogs were originally domesticated by our hunter-gatherer ancestors to assist them in hunting. That’s just a theory, but it’s definitely a good one when you consider that it’s more than just dogs we’ve relied on to help us hunt over the years. For instance, a group of hunters in New South Wales, Australia, once teamed up with killer whales to hunt the open sea.
Between 1840 and 1930, whalers from the town of Eden were known to work with killer whales to take on baleen whales. The human whalers were after the baleens, but the orcas prized them as a food source as well. For a time, the orcas were just a nuisance whale in the way, until the humans noticed something unusual. The pod of orcas had begun to herd the baleen whales towards the hunters.
The pod was led by a large killer whale the hunters named Old Tom. He began approaching the whaling ships and slapping his tail on the surface. The humans got the message in time that they needed to follow the whale back to where the other orcas had cornered a baleen. The whalers would kill it and the pod would feast on the meat, leaving the blubber and bones for the humans, which was what they wanted.
9. Eels and Grouper Hunt Together
Fish are often maligned as being some of the least intelligent animals in the world. People will compare themselves to goldfish when they forget things and lose track of their thoughts, for instance. But the sea can surprise you and there’s a lot going on beneath the waves.
Researchers discovered that both eels and grouper will hunt together to their mutual benefit in a way that indicates these aren’t just chance encounters. Grouper typically hunt the open waters during the day while eels hunt reefs at night. This means that the prey of a grouper can avoid it by hiding in reefs and the prey of eels can avoid them by sticking to open water. You can see then how a partnership could benefit each member.
For this to work, the grouper will actively approach a moray eel and shake its head until it has the eel’s attention. The eel then joins the grouper, hunting in and around the reef and sometimes a grouper will even lead the eel to a hidden fish. Based on observation, both fish end up more successful in their hunts than they are when they’re alone.
8. Humans and Dolphins Fish Together
We’ve seen that whales can help humans hunt other whales, but they’re not the only aquatic mammals that have learned the benefit of teaming up with humans. Dolphins have made use of us as well, with both species teaming up off the coast of Brazil.
In this case, dolphins serve as the eyes for humans in the hunt for mullet. The fishermen cannot see the schools of mullet in the water but they have nets at the ready. The dolphins pursue the mullet, leading them towards the humans. At the right moment, the dolphins will roll on the surface of the water, signalling to the humans to cast the nets.
The majority of the mullet will be captured by the nets and those that managed to flee break their formation, allowing the dolphins to pick them off and get their share.
7. Kenyan Honeyguide Birds Work with Humans to Find Beehives
It’s not just at sea that mankind benefits from helpful animals. In the air, the Kenyan Honeyguide is the best friend of anyone with a sweet tooth. And it’s also one of the few wild animals that actively communicates with the humans they help. In fact, the humans can communicate right back. It’s bizarre, but also well documented.
Honeyguide birds do what their name suggests. They will lead humans, often with very little prompting, to hidden bee’s nests full of honey. The Yao people of Mozambique can call the wild birds with a simple noise and they respond. They will lead the way to honey and wait for their human partners. Once there, the humans will smash the hive and take the honey. They leave bee larva and wax behind, both of which the bird can eat.
The relationship between human and bird was documented as far back as 1588, but for many years, it was assumed by researchers who didn’t take the time to actually look into it to be an exaggeration or an outright lie.
6. Langur Monkeys and Chital Deer Look out For Tigers
If you live in a world where tigers lurk about on a regular basis and maybe try to eat you and your friends, you might be tempted to make some friends to help avoid them. That seems to be what langur monkeys and chital deer in India are doing.
Both the deer and the monkeys make for a quick meal for predators like tigers and both have effective ways at detecting predators on their own, but they do come with some weaknesses in coverage. In trees, the monkeys have superior eyesight to see predators coming, something a deer can’t do on the ground. They can send out a call to alert not just other langurs but the deer as well when something does appear.
The monkeys can’t be in the treetops all the time, and on the ground foraging or traveling they can’t see well, so what can they do? This is where the deer help out. On the ground, the deer’s superior sense of smell alerts them to the presence of predators closing in. They can then warn the monkeys to head back to the trees as they flee for safety. It’s a “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” situation that helps keep them alive better than either species could manage alone.
The monkeys can’t be in the treetops all the time, and on the ground foraging or traveling they can’t see well, so what can they do? This is where the deer help out. On the ground, the deer’s superior sense of smell alerts them to the presence of predators closing in. They can then warn the monkeys to head back to the trees as they flee for safety. It’s a “I scratch your back you scratch mine” situation that helps keep them alive better than either species could manage alone.
The monkeys can’t be in the treetops all the time, and on the ground foraging or traveling they can’t see well so what can they do? This is where the deer help out. On the ground, the deer’s superior sense of smell alerts them to the presence of predators closing in. They can then warn the monkeys to head back to the trees as they flee for safety. It’s a “I scratch your back you scratch mine” situation that helps keep them alive better than either species could manage alone.
5. Barbel Fish Clean Hippos Underwater
Hippos are known to be one of the most aggressive animals in Africa, killing upwards of 500 people per year. They are very territorial and, given their size, there are few animals that would dare get in their way. That said, the barbel fish doesn’t get in a hippo’s way but it will help a hippo out.
Like anyone, a hippo is prone to dry skin. They also can get bugs and parasites infecting the various folds and pits in that skin. They have formed a mutualistic relationship with the barbel fish in rivers that sees both species getting a benefit. The barbel fish have little sucker-like mouths that they use to scrape all across the hippo’s body. This lets them clean off all the dead skin and parasites and eat them. The hippo gets a full body cleaning and everyone wins. The fish even clean the hippo’s mouth out. A single hippo can sometimes be covered in dozens of he fish as they do their job.
4. Carrier Crabs Carry Sea Urchins Around
Sea urchins aren’t known for doing a lot in their day to day lives. They look like aquatic porcupines, and they are capable of locomotion despite the fact it’s hard to see their little feet. They can also move on their spines if need be. They don’t have eyes but they do have mouths and that, along with their spines, is why they get along so well with the aptly named carrier crab.
The crabs use two of their legs to carry objects on their backs. These legs have been adapted specifically for this task, allowing them to get a good grip on fairly large objects that they balance on the back of their shells. In this case, what they carry is a sea urchin. The many venomous spines of the urchin serve as a protection from predators for the crab as it travels across the sea floor. At the same time, when the crab finds food, the urchin is able to eat the scraps the crab leaves behind. It will also be provided with new feeding grounds when the crab finally lets it go, providing a benefit to both creatures.
3. Yucca Moths Need Yucca Plants and Vice Versa
There are few examples of teamwork that are as profound as the relationship between Yucca moths and Yucca plants. The fact that either of these life forms is still alive at all is actually pretty remarkable when you learn the extent of what they do for one another.
Yucca plants, like any plants, need to be pollinated in order to reproduce.Insects are some of the most common pollinators in nature, and we all know the example of things like bees, going from plant to plant and spreading pollen around. But for the yucca plant, it’s a little more complicated since they have only one pollinator – the yucca moth.
After breeding, a male yucca moth’s life is over. The female heads to a yucca plant and removes the pollen, then takes it to another yucca plant where it deposits both the pollen and its eggs. The plant has now been fertilized and produces seeds and fruit. The caterpillar of the moth will eat these when it hatches. Because of the highly specific nature of their relationship, neither plant nor moth could survive without the other.
2. Leafcutter Ants Grow Fungus
Leafcutter ants live in Southern climates and you’ve likely seen them in videos as they put on an impressive show. Whole armies of them will travel along the forest floor carrying large pieces of leaves in their mandibles. At first glance, you might think that the ants eat the leaves they’re carrying, but that’s not the case. Instead, the leaves are more of a gift for a partnership they have with the fungus that grows in their own nests.
A leafcutter ant nest can contain thousands of chambers and cover a massive swath of land. They bring these leaves back home to fertilize their own tiny farm plots. The leaves are used to grow fungus that the ant larvae feed on.
The ants are so good at cultivating this fungus that they clean out rotten material and garbage and protect them from predators or pests as well.
1. Sloths, Moths and Algae all Work Together
When it comes to complex relationships between living organisms, nothing tops our friend the sloth. They may not move quickly, but they also don’t need to because sloths are part of a three-way partnership with moths and algae that benefits everyone.
You may have seen a green tinge to the fur of some sloths. That’s algae growing in the cracks of their fur. Their thick fur is also home to an entire ecosystem of insects, like cockroaches and moths. These two things together, the algae and the bugs, provide the sloth with some remarkable natural camouflage. Hanging from a tree branch in the jungle, they’d be all but invisible to many predators.
In addition to cover, the sloths actually eat the algae that grows on their bodies. And if you know sloths, you know they climb down to the ground to do their business. But why? They could just as easily poop from the trees. But going to the ground allows the sloths to get into contact with the places where moths lay their eggs in and around sloth poop. This allows new moths to take up residence in their fur. In doing so, the moths increase nitrogen levels in the fur, which promotes greater algae growth. And thus we’re right back where we started with sloths eating the algae.