You can call me Mono - it's a pleasure to meet you. Here you'll find updates from a Master of Science (Zoology) student at Melbourne University, Australia. This is a mismatch of a place; expect updates from within Uni and from out of it. I post about both zoology and its domestic cousin, animal science, and mix photos and pictures with lengthy discussions.
Let me teach you something.
Birds eating the ectoparasites from mammals like this water buffalo here are typically seen to be beneficial for their host. It’s cited as a classic example of mutualism - both parties gain an advantage. In this case, the oxpecker gets fed, and the buffalo has ticks removed and lives a more comfortable life. Certainly, that’s the idea given in the caption of this photo on National Geographic:
A cooperative bird finds and eats insects from a water buffalo’s face in a grooming ritual that pays off for both of them.
But did you know that it’s more likely these oxpeckers are actually parasites themselves?
Oh yeah. A study in 1999 found that actually, no change in tick load could be found when oxpeckers were excluded from mammal hosts. And in fact, in cattle populations with oxpeckers, the birds caused a lengthened time for wounds to heal.
And furthermore, a study in 2004 found that oxpeckers actually opened old wounds, and even created new ones themselves! One possibility is that open wounds increase the number of other parasites (like flies) in the area, which the oxpecker then eats. So their hosts probably aren’t getting anything beneficial from the relationship at all.
Might be time for us to find another go-to mutualistic relationship, don’t you think?