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Natures Fascinating Symbiosis

Updated on September 25, 2014

Natures Fascinating Symbiosis

A symbiotic relationship is a close and long term, usually permanent relationship between two different organisms. One cannot live without the other, therefore it is symbiotic. Symbiotic relationships, just like adaptations, are everywhere we look in nature, from the tiniest bacteria that inhabit our very own guts, to the giant sperm whale and the barnacles that make it's skin their home. These relationships are absolutely fascinating and wondorous.

Although most symbiotic relationships are beneficial to both organisms, called mutualism, some are not. Some symbiotic relationships involve one organism remaining neutral (commensalism) and some symbiotic relationships, such as parasitism, can actually be harmful to one of the two organisms.

This page gives one stunning example of each of the three types of symbiotic relationships and many links where you can read about more. Enjoy!

.Photo from Webecoist Which also shows many other incredible symbiotic relationships along with excellent photos.


Scuttling silently across the ocean floor, the tiny candy cane stripped legs of the boxer crab extend sideways, reaching for its pebbled home. Unknown to the crab and lurking within, is a hungry predator, ready to make a quick snack of the tiny crab. The crab is not defenseless though, reaching out its two front claws it shakes its ferocious pompoms at its enemy.

Ferocious pompoms? Well, they're not real pompoms, they just look like them. Growing around the crabs front claws are tiny creatures called sea anemones. These sea anemones protect the crab as they contain stinging cells which deter any possible attacker.

Since the boxer crab gains protection from its sea anemone gloves and the sea anemones get a place to live and left over scraps of food from the crab, both of them benefit in their relationship. When two organisms both benefit in a relationship like this, it's called mutualism. Mutualism is one type of symbiosis.

Photo from Webecoist Which also shows many other incredible symbiotic relationships along with excellent photos.

More Examples of Mutualism

There are literally hundreds of examples of mutualism out there - from the pollination for flowers by insects,birds and bats to the bacteria living in the guts of ungulates (like deer) that help them digest cellulose. Here are a couple of pages that have some interesting examples.

A crocodile opens its mouth, invites a bird in and.....Chop? No, the crocodile remains still while the plover picks meat and parasites from its mouth. This cleans the crocodile’s teeth and prevents infection while providing food for the hungry bird.

Share This With Children

Children are natually curious about nature and relationships between animals, plants and other organisms. Encourage this and discover some interesting symbiosis with your little one with these great books.


A large beetle spreads its wings to fly revealing a teeny tiny hitchhiker going for a free ride. The pseudoscorpion, spider like and often overlooked due to its small (1 cm) size, often disperses by hiding under the wing covers of large beetles. Not only does it get a lift to a new destination, but it gains protection from predators to boot. The pincers of the pseudoscorpion are too small to affect its beetle host, so the pseudoscorpion gains all the advantage in this relationship.

A symbiotic relationship such as this one, in which one organism benefits and one remains neutral is called commensalism. Commensalism is usually harder to find in nature because as you look closley you often find both species benefit in some way, its just not that obvious at first glance. In this example, perhaps the beetle gets something from the pseudoscorpion, we just don't know what that is quite yet.

photo source gardenweb

The Demodex folliculorum mites living in human eyelash follicles have a commensalistic relationship with us. They munch on dead skin cells and oils while we remain unharmed. (You can see them in about 1/2 the adult population 2/3 of the elderly population. Pull out and eyelash or eyebrow and look under a microscope.)


Leaping from the edge of a rock face to almost certain death, a grasshopper plunges into a pool of water where it drowns. Suicide? Hardly. Inside the entire body cavity of the grasshopper except its legs and head, squirms a tiny hairworm. Upon arrival in its grasshopper host, the worm secretes a chemical cocktail that wreaks havoc on the grasshoppers central nervous system causing it to eventually take the final plunge. When the grasshopper hits the water, the hairworm, now three or four times longer than the grasshopper, can swim away and join its fellow hairworms in a giant writhing mass where it will breed.

The hairworm is a parasite and gains all of the benefits in this symbiotic relationship, called parasitism. Usually the parasite does not kill its host, making this example unique. There are hundreds of parasites out there, many feeding off of human hosts.

photo source: Colorado State University

A whopping 75% of the world's creatures are parasites. And the average human body alone is known to host over a million parasites.

The Art of Being a Parasite
The Art of Being a Parasite

This book is packed with examples of the often astonishing forms which parasitism takes and of the intricate complexity of parasite life cycles. However, it is not just a collection of strange facts; it also offers a thoughtful discussion, of how natural selection works in the evolutionary process.


One More Example You Gotta See!

Thanks For Visiting - I would love to hear from you!

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      that stuff is amazing tell me more!

    • profile image

      JadaFuego 5 years ago

      Oh wow!!! I learned something today :) Thank you for this lens..your lenses are always very informative and fun.

    • jmchaconne profile image

      jmchaconne 5 years ago

      This is an excellent lens. I'm very interested in slime molds, they have interesting attributes that I believe will lead to practical applications. I'm writing a lens about it. Any hints you can give me will be greatly appreciated.

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 6 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      Great lens. The body invaders clip was fascinating. Something that has always stuck with me--my high school biology teacher said that if all the human tissue were somehow removed, leaving parasites and microorganisms, an identifiable human shape would remain.

    • mannasugar profile image

      mannasugar 6 years ago

      My fav is the hermit crab....nice Lens....

    • waldenthreenet profile image

      waldenthreenet 6 years ago

      Appreciating your topic and knowledge. I am a life science person so this topic is valauble. for me. Congrad on reaching Squidoo Level 54. Just got there myself.

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      brilliantfireworks 6 years ago

      amazing what you brought together here about nature. Real joy to read it. :)

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Everything moves in a Circle, this is called "Flow", which is how the path is to be Travelled! All things have a "Flow" or Pathway, like Nature, we have a Pathway "We" must Follow. There are no Exceptions, if there is Rain and a Body of Water; this is the Water Cycle! Oxygen to Breathe and Carbon Dioxide to exhale; Plants use CO2 to make more O2, this is the Carbon Dioxide and Oxygen Cycle!

      This means People are no different, we are Born, we Live and Learn; then we Die. Along the way, just help those in need and in the end we will feel like we did what we were supposed to during our Time here! :)

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      I001l01I02l 7 years ago

      cool! i didn't know there's mutualism between crocs and birds (:

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 7 years ago

      Wow, really well explained. I like how you gave examples of each type of symbiotic relationship. I have always been fascinated by this also.

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      ShamanicShift 7 years ago

      Well organized, informative and engaging lens about a wondrous phenomenon.

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      JFB91 8 years ago

      It's really interesting to learn about these symbiotic relationships! Thanks for the great information