Best Supporting Role in an African Ecosystem
1. Ants: Anting around
Picture this. It's golden hour and you're sat on the banks of the Zambezi. You look up and see a Lilac Breasted Roller tumbling down and settle on a branch next to you. Its iridescent plumage glitters magnificently as you breath a sigh of utter euphoria. To create a scene like this you might need a beautiful bird and to create a beautiful bird you might need a supporting actor. Hygiene is incredibly important in many birds and they often go to great lengths to maintain that pristine plumage we all know and love. They therefore, perform grooming rituals like dust bathing as well as releasing there own oils to reduce parasites. However, every leading role, needs a helping hand and in this case it is actually ants that contribute to creating that stunning plumage. Passive anting is where the bird will intentionally lie on an ants nest and allow them to crawl all over their bodies. The ants release acids that act as an insecticide to remove parasites from the birds feathers.
2. Oxpeckers: A helping hand
Nature is full of symbiotic relationships. Mutualism is where one animal might help out another, but only when both parties benefit from the engagement. For example, animals may congregate when feeding to mutually benefit from each others alarm calls. Oxpeckers are a classic example where the birds remove various ticks and parasites from many of our plains game like giraffe, buffalo and impala. In return, they get a tasty snack by eating the insects. Not only this, but oxpeckers might also provide warning calls if they identify a potential threat in the area. On a walking safari, these birds might offer guides clues about what's lurking behind the next bush.
3. Giraffe: A busy bee
When talking about supporting roles, one can't escape pollination. Pollination usually refers to bees but in this case, our supporting actor is slightly bigger. With a tongue half a meter long, it might seem like giraffe's pose a threat to most acacia's when in actual fact they are fundamentally important to their reproductive productivity. Particularly, giraffe are the number one mammal pollinators for the knob thorn tree. This is a wide spread species that can be found across all of our Zimbabwe lodges. Flowers from these trees blossom high up so that as the giraffes feed, the pollen attaches to its fur. They provide a perfect mode of transport for the pollen as they feed from one tree to the next. In the wet season, knob thorn foliage can make up 40% of a giraffes diet, helping the fertilisation process for the trees in the area.
And the winner for Best Supporting Role in an African Ecosystem is...