Birds of Paradise and a Humming Bird

Among the 10,000 or so species of bird, 366 are hummingbirds. They constitute about 3.7% of bird species with a population in the hundreds of millions. They are distinct as they are the only birds that can fly backwards and even upside down. Their heart beats 20 times per second – far faster than any other living animal and their wings beat 80 times per second. Hummingbirds are first-class pollinators. They visit as many as 1,000 flowers per day, and usually travel over 20 miles each day. Clearly, they serve Nature well.

But, they are only found in the Americas. Their territory spans Alaska and to Tierra del Fuego, with most of them found in South America. Nevertheless, the oldest known hummingbird fossils, dating back 30 to 35 million years, were not found in the Americas at all but in southeastern Germany. Some have also been found in Poland, and France, but none in Africa or Asia.

Nature is mysterious. Elephants, horses and camels once roamed the plains of South America, but vanished away, and so did the hummingbirds of Europe.

Why did Nature create such beings? It’s an intriguing question and, like most such questions, impossible to answer. Nature solved the pollination problem with insects – about 150 million years ago, in the Cretaceous period, long before hummingbirds came on the scene.

Co-evolution and Obligate Mutualism

“Co-evolution” is a word used to describe a mystery. It points out the obvious, in this instance, that insects and flowering plants had to evolve concurrently, or the flower reproduction idea would not work. So Nature produced a symbiotic co-dependence. Nature is amazing in its machinations. Not only does it create such mutualism within the Trogoautoegocrat, it even creates species that are dangerously interdependent. Technically, this is referred to as Obligate Mutualism – where if one species dies out, then so does the other.

Among the hummingbirds, we find the Sword-billed Hummingbird, whose long curved bill perfectly fits the Passionflower, ensuring pollen transfer but excluding other pollinators. And there’s also the Blue-headed Hummingbird whose long bill is adapted perfectly to the tubular flowers of the Silverblossom. In Hawaii, you’ll find the same relationship between the honeycreeper bird and the silversword plant.

But why be so vulnerable?

It’s not just birds. In the Sonoran Desert of North America you find the senita cactus, which has the senita moth as its sole pollinator. The females lay their eggs on the cactus flowers, and the hatching larvae feed on the developing fruit and seeds. During their feeding frenzy, the larvae inadvertently transfer pollen between flowers, ensuring successful reproduction for the cactus. The senita moth and cactus survive together or not at all. The same is true of the yukka plant and the yukka moth.

There’s also:

  • Leafcutter Ants with their Fungus Gardens: These ants cultivate specific fungi within their underground nests, providing the fungus with leaf fragments for growth and consuming its nutrient-rich fruiting bodies. They cannot survive without each other.
  • Hydroid polyps and Hermit Crabs: Certain hydroid polyps attach themselves to the shells of hermit crabs, gaining mobility and access to wider food sources. The stinging cells of the polyps protect the hermit crab from predators.
  • Ruminant Herbivores and Ruminal Protozoa: Protozoa living in the rumen of cows, sheep and other ruminant herbivores help break down complex plant fibers, allowing the animals to access nutrients they couldn’t digest alone. The two are interdependent.
  • Fig Wasps and Fig Trees: Female fig wasps carry pollen from one fig to another, ensuring pollination. In return, they lay eggs within developing figs, and their offspring feed on some fig seeds before emerging.
  • Clownfish and Sea Anemones: Clownfish live among the stinging tentacles of sea anemones, gaining protection from predators. In return, the clownfish may chase away predators of the anemone or bring food scraps to it.
  • Lichen: This is the ultimate in obligate mutualism, a composite organism that is a combination of fungus and photosynthetic algae (or cyanobacteria). The fungus provides structure and protection, while the algae/cyanobacteria produce sugars through photosynthesis, nourishing both partners.

There are a few examples where the mutually dependent species have both gone extinct. The Caribbean island flower plant Cornusflorida was totally dependent on the bat glossophaga longirostris for pollination. When European settlers arrived on the islands they hunted the bats to extinction, and the flower also died out.

In the modern age, Nature is experiencing an unhealthy amount of extinction at the hands of man. Man should be far more concerned than he appears to be. He thinks he’s the master of Nature, but he is not.