Posts about mutualism

Undergraduate Student Discovers Herbivorous Spider

Herbivory Discovered in a Spider

A jumping spider from Central America eats mostly plants, according to new research. Spiders were thought to be strictly predators on animals. The spider, Bagheera kiplingi, was described scientifically in the late 1800s, but its vegetarian tendencies were not observed until the 21st century.

“This is the first spider in the world known to deliberately hunt plant parts. It is also the first found to go after plants as a primary food source,” said lead author Christopher Meehan.

Of the approximately 40,000 species of spiders known, Bagheera kiplingi is the only species known to be primarily herbivorous. Ironically, the vegetarian spider is named after the panther in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” The spider inhabits several species of acacia shrubs involved in a well-known mutualism between the acacias and several species of ants.

Previously, very few spiders had been seen consuming plants at all. Some spiders had been observed occasionally eating nectar and pollen, although the bulk of their diet was insects and other small animals.

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Mutualism – Inter-species Cooperation

Shrimp with Goby Fish

A Mutual Affair by Olivia Judson

I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite animals: the shrimp goby. These pretty little fish lead lives of enviable indolence. As their name suggests, they live with shrimp (often, a pair). The shrimp build and maintain a burrow, which the goby and shrimp live in together. Each shrimp works hard, shoveling sand out of the front entrance like a miniature bulldozer. As soon as it’s delivered the rubble to a suitable distance, it shoots back into the burrow.

The front entrance of the burrow is often reinforced with bits of shell and coral — all of which is done by the shrimp. The goby just sits in the entrance of the burrow, keeping guard and warning the shrimp, which is nearly blind, of danger. At any sign of danger — a diver coming too close, a passing predator — the goby darts into the burrow. If the goby zooms in, the shrimp hastily retreats deep inside. And before the shrimp emerges from the burrow, it touches the goby’s tail with its long antennae. To show it’s safe to come out, the goby gently wiggles its tail. When the shrimp is out of the burrow, it keeps one antenna touching the goby. If the goby suddenly retreats, so does the shrimp.

These animals are dependent on each other. Remove the fish, and the shrimp stops burrowing; the shrimp forage while burrowing, so without a fish, they grow more slowly, too. The shrimp need their guard goby. And the guard goby needs its shrimp: deny the goby shelter in a burrow, and it will promptly be killed by predators (yes, someone did the experiment). The shrimp keep the goby clean, too: they groom it.

photo by Boogies with Fish

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Symbiotic relationship between ants and bacteria

Study reveals classic symbiotic relationship between ants, bacteria

Ants that tend and harvest gardens of fungus have a secret weapon against the parasites that invade their crops: antibiotic-producing bacteria that the insects harbor on their bodies.

“Every ant species [that we have examined] has different, highly modified structures to support different types of bacteria,” says Currie. “This indicates the ants have rapidly adapted to maintain the bacteria. It also indicates that the co-evolution between the bacteria and the ants, as well as the fungus and parasites, has been occurring since very early on, apparently for tens of millions of years.”

Furthermore, Currie says, the fact that the species have coexisted for so long means there might be a mechanism in place to decrease the rate of antibiotic resistance – which could help address a significant problem facing modern medicine. “We can learn a lot about our own use of antibiotics from this system,” he says.

Read more about the overuse of antibiotics

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