Episode 18: What’s the Most Surprising Partnership Between Species?

Check out episode 18 of Completely Optional Knowledge, the podcast that answers questions you never knew you had. Some things in life are #CompletelyOptional — satisfying your curiosity doesn’t have to be one of them.


Photo by travelwayoflife / Flickr. Creative Commons.

Emily Schorr Lesnick is the co-host of the SoulGlo podcast, a show about diversity where everyone is welcome, “except haters” (our new favorite tagline). As a person who works to foster diversity and inclusion in the human world, she’s curious about what cues she can take from our animal friends and the natural world.

So we got in touch with researchers Michele Lanan and Mary Jane Epps, who study the biological concept of mutualism — the way two organisms from different species form a relationship in which each individual benefits from the actions of the other.

Now, thinking about unlikely animal partnerships might conjure images of cute monkeys riding cuter pigs, or real-life versions of Disney’s fox and hound. And before we let Michele and Mary Jane come in to burst that bubble and explain to us how mutualism actually works, we’re going to indulge those preconceived notions with these classic gifs.

Again, not how mututalism actually works. But cute as hell. Gifs via Giphy.

OK now for real science.

According to Michele and Mary Jane, mutualism in the wild looks less like a zoomorphized buddy comedy and more like an amazing evolutionary means of survival for not one species, but two. Think plants and pollinators, whales and barnacles, and even — as we learned in this episode — the mitochondria in our own bodies.

Listen and learn:

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