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Symbiotic relationships in the Amazon


December 7, 2017

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In a world where evolution seems to prefer “selfishness”, Symbiosis -the close relationship of two organisms that benefits at least one of the two- seems out of place. There are three types of Symbiotic relationships: Mutualism, where both the organisms are benefited from the relationship, Commensalism, were one organism takes advantage from the relationship but the other one is not harmed, and Parasitism, were one organism benefits from the relationship at the expense of the health of the other.
Now we will illustrate each of these relationships with examples that can be seen in our Lodge and the general Manu area.

Mutualism:

A great example of Amazonian Mutualism is the one of the Smooth-billed Ani and the Capybara. The Smooth-billed Ani is a medium-sized bird that feeds on insects and other invertebrates. The Capybara is the largest rodent in the world. How are these two species connected? Easy. The Smooth-billed Ani benefits by eating the parasites -such as ticks, flies, and other insects- that live in the fur of the Capybara, and the Capybara benefits by getting rid of the parasites. Mutualism is a Win-Win relationship.

When you approach the Tambo Blanquillo Private Reserve upriver or down river, you will surely see couples of
Capybaras next to the banks of the Madre de Dios River.

Capybara with Smooth-billed Ani on its head – Photo: Luis Felipe Raffo

Capybara with Smooth-billed Ani on its head – Photo: Luis Felipe Raffo

Commensalism:

A great example of Commensalism in the Amazon kingdom is the one of some Algae species and the Sloth. Sloths move so slow and are exposed to humidity -in the form of Rain and Mist- that Algae grows on them. This is the reason why some Sloths appear to be green, or why some Sloth have patches of green fur. The Algae benefits by having a substrate they can live in -the Sloth- and the protection of not being eaten by snails or other invertebrates, as would normally be the case in any other substrate. The Sloth does not benefit on any way, but having Algae on its fur doesn’t harm it either.

On the way to Tambo Balnquillo Private Reserve its very common to observe two and three finger
Sloths. Its also very common to see them on the way to the Tambo Blanquillo Macaw Clay lick, specially if you
visit our lodge or intend to plan a visit to the clay lick by the boat route.

Brown-throated Sloth – Photo: Luis Felipe Raffo

Brown-throated Sloth – Photo: Luis Felipe Raffo

Parasitism:

The last of the three ways Symbiosis exists, is Parasitism, a relationship were an individual benefit by hurting another. An interesting fact is that Parasitism is the most common way of making a living in the animal kingdom. A good example, that is common to find on the Amazon is the one of ticks. Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that hang-on to vertebrates, especially warm-blooded Mammals. The host is harmed by being sucked ‘dry’ of their blood. While this might sound hard to imagine, as it is almost impossible for a big mammal such as a Capybara or a Tapir, it could be the case for an unlucky lizard, if several ticks were to clasp to it.

If you wish to learn more about this subject, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

 

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