Now that we know Venom will be returning to the big screen, this time with Tom Hardy starring as the always tortured and vengeful Eddie Brock, it seems like a good time to review the fact that incredibly bizarre symbiotic relationships of all kinds, from crucially beneficial to disgustingly harmful, exist in real life. (All. Over. The. Place.) Here’s a list of five of them, many of which will make your skin crawl like some kind of slippery black goop from space—that’s not Vantablack—is trying to consume you and destroy all that for which you stand morally.
1. The Bobtail Squid
The Bobtail Squid, or Sepiolida, is a tiny cephalopod (between one and eight centimeters), that has developed a mutualistic—that is, a mutually beneficial—relationship with a bioluminescent bacteria by the name of Aliivibrio fischeri. The Bobtail squid houses the Aliivibrio fischeri in a light organ, which is a pouch on the underside of its body, and feeds the bacteria sugar and amino acid solutions. In turn, the bioluminescent bacteria generates light through chemical reactions, and provides cover for the Bobtail squid as it’s hunting. The cover is provided by the light because it matches ambient light coming in through the top of the ocean, and eliminates the Bobtail Squid’s silhouette. (Venom isn’t the only one who can make himself invisible.)
2. Gut MicrobiotaIf you’re talking about real-life symbiotic organisms, the gut microbiota, or complex community of microorganisms inside digestive tracts, needs to be a part of the conversation. Although a gut microbiota (which is also mutualistic), can be found in the digestive tract of every animal you can think of, as well as insects, looking at what the member bacteria do in human digestive tracts alone is a marvel. Our gut microbiotas are usually established by age two, and they’re responsible for the “mental illness” of our guts (which house one hundred million neurons) as well as 70% of our immune systems. You can even cut the vagus nerve and have your entire digestive system operate on its own.
This Tedx video on you and “your 100 trillion friends” will blow your gut-mind.
3. Screech Owls and Blind Snakes
While there are countless examples of symbiosis on the microscopic scale, there’s also symbiosis on the level of animals helping out, or hurting, other animals. In the case of screech owls and blind snakes, it’s a little bit of both. Screech owls locate, grab, and bring back to their tree-cavity homesteads the blind snakes. The blind snakes—which often don’t have eyes, hence the name—then slither around the screech owl’s eggs and eat insects, arachnids, and mites. Thusly, the owl’s eggs are protected and the blind snake is fed. The blind snakes do apparently get beat up by the owl’s beak, but hey, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.A Blindsnake Image: Wikimedia / National Park Service
4. Cymothoa exigua
Well, here’s something gross for you to look at. It’s Cymothoa exigua, or the tongue-eating louse. And if that name sounds parasitic to you, that’s because it is gaggingly parasitic. The Cymothoa exigua enters a fish’s mouth, extracts blood from the fish’s tongue with its claws, then replaces its tongue after it atrophies and falls off. It simply becomes the fish’s new tongue in order to catch a ride and derive nutrients. No matter how weird Venom’s long tongue gets, it will always pale in comparison to the strangeness of Cymothoa exigua.
5. Cattle Egrets and Zebras
Finally, with Cattle Egrets and zebras, we have an example of commensalism, which is a type of symbiosis where one partner species benefits, and the other receives no harm or gain. In this case, the Cattle Egrets benefit from the zebras because they stir up bugs in the plains that can then be eaten. Cattle Egrets can also surf on the backs of zebras, but word has it Silicon Valley may be getting into the egret-riding-zebras game with AirZnZ.
So what of the sentient alien symbiote from Spider-Man? The gloop that turns Eddie Brock into a buffed up, wide-mouth mad man is certainly not an example of commensalism. It’s not fully parasitic either, however, as Brock’s biceps can attest. Perhaps we can say it’s mutually parasitic, because it can both help and hurt you… which should make for a good recipe for internal conflict in a standalone Venom movie.
What do you think about these real-life symbiotes? And how would you categorize Venom? Let us know in the comments below!
Images: The National Science Foundation/YouTube
Xenomorph biology explained!
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