Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Magpie Symbiosis

This week I am in Eastern Idaho, nearly to the Wyoming border, doing some presentations for my job. I had a little free time yesterday so I took a hike along a little stream enjoying the views of the Teton mountains. Amazing. I definitely have to buy myself a better camera because my cheesy little Casio Exilim simply would not do these mountains justice.

As I was hiking I was watching a pair of Magpies dancing in the sky, swooping back and forth between the creek and the trees. (photo shown here is from Wikipedia).

I decided to do a bit of reading about magpies to learn more about them. I learned that they like to land on the backs of deer, moose or other large mammals to pick out the ticks from the animals hide. I got a big grin on my face remembering an image from my childhood.

One of my brothers - I THINK it was Andy, but I'm not positive, drew a picture of a "hippopotomus tick bird". He related in great detail how the birds would ride on the back of the hippos to eat ticks out of the tough hide, giving a meal to the bird and freeing the animal of a nasty parasite. This was my first introduction to the concept of symbiosis, the living together of dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial way. I've always really liked that idea.

There are lots of examples in nature of symbiosis: the hermit crab and the sea anemone, the African crocodile and the plover bird (it cleans the reptile's teeth). The ostrich and the zebra travel together because zebras have great smell and hearing but lousy eyesight. Ostriches have lousy smell and hearing but very keen eyes. Together they make a great team in warning each other about approaching dangers. Even the plant kingdom gets in the act of symbiosis with lichens - a partnership between algae and fungus.

Why can't human beings be more symbiotic? Instead of creating walls of animosity over our differences, I believe we have the potential to find creative partnerships that would mutually benefit BOTH sides of very different people if we could just somehow manage to put down the bat of mistrust and suspicion that so ofen characterizes our species.

Every time I see a magpie I will be reminded to look for ways to make friends of my foes.

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