Commensalism – The Definition Of Commensalism And 10 Examples


 Commensalism – The Definition Of Commensalism And 10 Examples

Commensalism is a wide-ranging subject in biology that explores relationships among animals. This phenomenon can be observed in various environments, and this article aims to provide a clear definition of commensalism and illustrative examples to enhance comprehension.

Commensalism Definition

Commensalism is a symbiotic relationship where one organism benefits while the other remains unaffected. Unlike mutualism and parasitism, where both organisms either mutually benefited or benefit at the expense of the other, commensalism involves one party receiving advantages without causing any harm or benefit to the other.

The distinguishing characteristic of commensalism is that the host or second party in the relationship remains unaffected by the presence or actions of the benefiting organism.

Examples Of Commensalism

here are examples of commensalism

1. Sharks And Remora Fish

Sharks And Remora Fish

Remora fish, belonging to the Echeneidae family, provides an interesting example of commensal scavenging. These fish, often called “suckerfish,” attach themselves to larger marine animals like sharks, mantas, and whales without causing any harm or discomfort. They patiently wait for their hosts to feed and then detach themselves to scavenge on leftover scraps.

While this behaviour exemplifies commensalism, it’s worth noting that in some cases, remora fish also provide on the external parasites of their hosts, leading to a mutualistic relationship.

2. Whales And Barnacles

Crustacean Barnacles have a unique lifestyle, as they cannot move independently. In their larval stage, they attach themselves to various surfaces, including other organisms like whales, shells, ships, and rocks. Once connected, they grow and thrive without causing any harm to their hosts.

Barnacles sustain themselves by feeding on plankton and other food particles in the water as the whales swim and create movement. This relationship benefits the barnacles by providing them with transportation and a source of nutrition. It’s important to note that barnacles do not feed on the blood or flesh of the whale, ensuring that they do not harm their host.

 3. Sea Cucumbers And Emperor Shrimp

Sea Cucumbers And Emperor Shrimp

The emperor shrimp, a crustacean commonly found in the Indo-Pacific region, forms a fascinating relationship with sea cucumbers. These shrimps can be observed attaching themselves to sea cucumbers, providing several advantages to both parties involved.

The sea cucumbers benefit from the shrimp’s presence by gaining transportation and protection from predators without expending their energy. On the other hand, the shrimp periodically detach from their host to feed.

When they desire to move to a different location, they find another sea cucumber to attach themselves to. Due to their small and lightweight nature, the emperor shrimp does not significantly impede the movement of the sea cucumber.

4. Milkweed And Monarch Butterfly

The monarch butterfly forms an attachment to a particular type of milkweed plant that contains a toxic substance known as cardiac glycoside. This toxin harms vertebrates, leading most animals to steer clear of the plant. Monarch butterflies can extract and store this toxin within their bodies throughout their entire life cycle.

As a result of consuming the toxin, monarch butterflies become unappealing to birds, who find them distasteful and choose not to destroy them. Interestingly, the monarch larvae have developed resistance to the poisonous effects of the cardiac glycoside, allowing them to feed on the milkweed without any negative consequences. It is worth noting that the milkweed plant is not carnivorous and does not pose any harm to the developing butterfly.

This unique relationship between the monarch butterfly, the milkweed plant, and potential predators highlights a fascinating example of coexistence and protection in nature.

 5. Livestock And Cattle Egrets

Livestock And Cattle Egrets

Cattle egrets often perch on the backs of large grazing animals like cattle and horses to take advantage of food opportunities. As these animals move and disturb the ground, the egrets quickly seize the opportunity to descend and capture exposed insects.

They also exhibit the same behaviour around farm machinery, capitalizing on the insects stirred up by the equipment. These resourceful birds can also be seen in fields near airports, patiently waiting for planes to take off or land and creating a commotion in the grass, revealing more insects for the egrets to feed on.

6. Burdock Seeds On Animals

Burdock Seeds On Animals

The Burdock plant employs spiky, rounded flower heads to spread its seeds over the land. As furry animals traverse the area, these seed bundles easily attach to their fur, utilizing the animals as a mode of transportation.

The spikes are designed to cling to the fur without causing harm or penetrating the animals’ thick hides. This fascinating interaction exemplifies a unique type of commensalism called phoresy, where the commensal species relies on a host solely for transportation purposes.

 7. Beetles And Pseudoscorpions

Pseudoscorpions demonstrate phoresy by attaching themselves to exposed surfaces of host animals, such as the fur of mammals or beneath the wings of beetles and bees. Despite lacking stingers, this behaviour allows these scorpion-like arachnids to gain protection from predators. Due to their small size, they pose a minimal inconvenience to the host animal providing shelter.

8. Hermit Crabs And Gastropods

Hermit Crabs And Gastropods

Hermit crabs are well-known for finding shelter in discarded shells that they come across. These flexible crustaceans often depend on abandoned gastropod shells, such as those left behind by snails, to provide protection. This behaviour falls under the category of metabiosis, which involves one species utilizing the habitat of a dead organism.

9. Birds And Army Ants

Birds do not follow army ants to feed on them directly. Instead, they trail behind these ants to take advantage of the insects trying to escape as they march across the forest floor. The birds seize this opportunity to capture the fleeing prey while the ants are unaffected. The birds have learned to avoid consuming ants due to their aggressive behaviour, painful bites, and defensive poison.

10. Maggots Living In Dead Bodies

A less desirable example of metabiosis commensalism occurs when maggots inhabit a carcass. These larvae feed on the nutrients in the decaying flesh and take advantage of the moist environment to lay their eggs. The subsequent generation of maggots depends on the available food source within the dead animal’s remains before eventually departing.

Jael Okwuchukwu
Jael Okwuchukwu
I am Okwuchukwu Jael, a writer, educator, and musician from Enugu State. Teaching, both academic and musical, is a passion of mine, and I specialize as a Western pianist. Currently, I am employed as a blogger at Writer's King LTD, combining my love for writing and desire to share knowledge with a broader audience.


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