Mutualism

 

The Greater Flamingo intervenes...(c) Young World, The Hindu, 2012

The Greater Flamingo tries to drill some sense into the fighting animals of the Western Ghats.

Dear Aristotle,

As I see it, these chaps from the Western Ghats haven’t really seen the world. They are, how shall I put it, ymm… like frogs in a well. We the flamingos are world travellers, global citizens, you might say.

Travel broadens one’s thinking, I guess. We meet a number of co-inhabitants of our world in different habitats. We cooperate with others and amongst ourselves. That is probably the reason why our species is classified as “Not Threatened” in IUCN list.

Friends of our friends are our friends. We fail to understand the trading of insults between the two who share a home.

As a member of the Greater flamingo species, I get to live in Northern Africa and southern Eurasia during summers, and the salt lakes and wetlands of Gujarat and Rajasthan in winters. I have heard some of amazing symbiotic relationships that would stun you. I post them to you all, especially to those two war-mongers; they would be lessons to be learned.

The waters of the oceans hide beautiful coral-reefs and their secrets. Embedded in them is a particular kind of algae called zoozanthellas. Their colour helps the reef in two ways. It makes them a lovely shade of red-orange; and it nourishes it because it helps in photosynthesis. What does the reef do for the algae as a return favour? It provides shelter and protection to it. Take note, you petty cribbers. One camel does not make fun of another camel’s hump!

Help one another

Here is another case of mutualism — to help one another — is the case of crocodiles and the “toothpick” bird. The mighty crocs of the Nile heave themselves out of the water to bask in the sun. It is also the time to get their teeth cleaned. They leave the mouths open for the Egyptian plover birds to hop in and pick out tiny morsels of food, leeches and other parasites caught between their countless teeth! Of course, what the birds pick out they get to eat!

Cantankerous fools, I shall give you one more example of good cooperative relationships if only to drum some sense into you both.

In the vast plains of Africa graze innumerable zebras. Curiously, in their midst is a flock of ostriches! You wonder why. Zebras can hear and smell extremely well but have poor eyesight. On the other hand, the birds have excellent vision and hence, as a group they watch out for predators.

Smart, aren’t they?

I could give you a hundred more cases of coexistence but I hope I have made my point with just three.

As for the two of you, here is an African proverb to think about — without retaliation, evils will soon become extinct.

Perhaps men and countries too should ponder on it.

Greater flamingo

Reply from Aristotle

Hey flamingo, you made a very good point about coexistence. I hope man too learns from this. BTW, here is a limerick in your honour.

There was once a silly pink P. ruber

Who visited India one winter

He stood at a salt pan

To get a lovely tan,

But the shrimps he ate there only made ‘m pinker!

Published as part of a series titled ‘Aristotle’s Mailbag’ in Young World, The Hindu, dt. Sept 17, 2012

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