Cattle Egrets, Cattle, and Other Herbivore Neighbors
~ by James J. S. Johnson
For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Romans 13:9)
Being a good neighbor is a standard to live by. And good neighbors help one another. As Romans 13:9 indicates, it’s a norm for how to treat one’s neighbors.
To some extent, this type of “win-win” situation sometimes occurs in nature, as is often (though not always) illustrated by the relationships of some birds — the best examples are Cattle Egrets with domestic Cattle, as well as with other large mammal herbivores (such as bison, water buffalo, bison, horses, zebras, giraffes, antelope, etc.), as the large mammals graze in tall grasses where bothersome insects and parasitic ticks abound.
It should be no surprise that Cattle Egrets associate with cattle, picking (at and eating) bugs that pester those noble (and vulnerable) bovines.
The term used by ecologists, for this “win-win” relationship, is mutualistic symbiosis. In other words, they help each other as good neighbors should!
When cattle egrets tag along with cattle, whose quadrupedal movement through pastures (or non-agricultural grasslands) stir up insects or all kinds, the cattle egrets opportunistically snap up the dislodged bugs. Likewise, Cattle Egrets are not shy about perching atop cattle, to eat whatever insects or ticks (or insect larvae) may be trespassing on beleaguered bovine bodies.
The benefit to the birds is obvious – convenient meals, either on the bovine skin or in the stirred grasses that bovine feet brush against (causing bugs in the grass to show themselves as moving targets as they flee the bovine hooves). Yet the benefit inures to the cattle, too, because they have no hands to dislodge the pestering bugs (many of which are noxious parasites) off their backs – or to shoo away bugs that initially flit about near their feet, perhaps soon to light upon the bovine’s legs or back, to do what many bugs do – such as blood-sucking fleas or ticks or mosquitoes. The bugs really bug the bovines! – some are annoying parasites! – so the insectivorous habits of the bug-munching birds are a welcome-relief-providing blessing to the cattle.
Actually, the Cattle Egret is an African emigrant – Cattle Egrets migrated from Africa to South American almost a century ago. (See range map showing migration.) Migrating northward, Cattle Egrets quickly colonized the southern regions of North America too.
Click on a photo to see the Gallery.
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis), of North and South America, most of Africa, and parts of southern Asia and coastal Australia .
More examples could be given – but this is enough to illustrate the trend!
(Surely God smiled, when He thought that one up!)
- [Fair Use image credit: Map]
- [Fair Use image credit: Cattle Egret in breeding plumage – that’s a wrap!]