Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Symbiosis in Nature

“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.” ~ Marshall McLuhan, 1964

“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.” ~ Elwyn Brooks White, Essays of E.B. White, 1977

Today (22nd April 2009) is Earth Day. Nature can teach us many great lessons. One such lesson is the cooperation between species of different capabilities for healthy mutual co-existence. In a study done by Departamento de Zoologia e Museu de História Natural, São Paulo, Brazil, the following amazing discovery was made in 2004.

At the oceanic island of Fernando de Noronha, off northeast Brazil, the team recorded the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) visiting cleaning stations tended by the barber pole shrimp (Stenopus hispidus). This seems to be the first record of cleaning symbiosis between marine turtles and shrimps. During their foraging on the reef flat, the turtles regularly visited and posed at the stations. The same stations were visited by a few species of reef fishes, which posed and were cleaned by the shrimps. It is suggested that cleaning symbiosis between turtles and shrimps is widespread and went unrecognised due to the superficial resemblance between a resting turtle and a posing and cleaned one.
In this kind of interaction, the cleaner fishes obtain food, and the turtles get rid of the organisms’ growth on their shells and/or soft body parts.
After foraging for a while, the hawksbill turtle swam directly towards the cleaning station, landed in front of it and adjusted its position to accommodate the left or right portion of its hind-body and limbs under the rocky ledge. Its posture while at the station was very characteristic: its hind limbs were sprawled and the forelimbs were stretched holding its fore body and head elevated. The turtle held this
posture for 50-60 sec after which it moved away. While at the shrimp station the turtle remained watchful and prone to flee at an observer’s close approach.

This Earth Day, this discovery and insight could be a great lesson in our life to become sensitive to the needs of every element of our environment and be a player of earth empowerment in whatever capacity we can.

Love to you all.

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