As part of the Wild Art 2021 August Challenge, put on by Zoe Keller, I illustrated two pieces focusing on the theme, “HOME”. Each month, I am going to focus on two pieces – one highlighting flora, the other highlighting fauna. This month, I focused on how different species create their homes and shelters. One uses plants, and the other forms a symbiotic relationship with other animals.
Typically, when we think of animals creating their homes, we often think of animals using plants to make their nest or cocoon. In the moth world, the caterpillars roll themselves up in plant matter such as leaves or needles, and complete the remainder of their metamorphosis. Mammals, such as beavers, build their homes out of sticks and branches. Birds build their nests out of all manners of plant life! The hummingbird collects lichen and moss and creates small nests by adhering the plants with spider silk. Swallows make mud and grass nests that stick to flat surfaces. Herons create large stick and branch platforms high in treetops near bodies of water.
One bird’s stick or grass home isn’t complete though without a little more decoration. Typically, birds finish their nests and don’t worry about home décor, yet the male bowerbird (a type of bird native to Australia) are VERY concerned about the aesthetics of the bower, or enclosed nesting site. In the case of bowers like the one shown here, where there are relatively parallel walls of sticks and grasses, they are called avenues. These avenues can be almost 6 feet in length and are adhered and made to stick up using a paste made of chewed plants and spit!
Once the sticks and grasses are placed perfectly, the male bowerbird starts the decoration process. He goes off to collect pieces of trash, flower petals, feathers, and other relatively small items that match his selected theme. Sometimes, the theme is a color, sometimes it is a texture or material. In the case of the Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) the theme is often the color blue. Since blue is a difficult color to find in the natural world, they often search out and bring back trash bits such as bottle caps, pens, small plastic ice cream scoops, and clothespins. Each item is placed meticulously and the male may adjust and re-adjust time and time again until he gets the placement perfect. Once he’s done, he stands outside the bower and waits for the females to arrive to check out his beautifully decorated home. She’ll examine his craftsmanship and he performs an elaborate courtship dance outside the bower to boost his chances of successful mating. If the female likes what she sees, they’ll mate and the male will no longer play a role in parenting. His job of creating the dream bowerbird home is done until he needs to create a new home.
Yet not every animal creates their homes out of plants! Some animals, such as the clownfish, forms symbiotic relationships with other animals and call that other animal their home.
As seen in this illustration, the Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion percula) spends it’s time finding solace and protection in an anemone. Not every anemone is a good fit for these fish though, and they can normally be found forming these relationships with Sebae Anemone (Heteractis crispa). The clownfish provides some valuable things for the anemone in exchange for the home the anemone provides. Most fish are stung by stinging cells, called Nematocysts, on the anemone, however clownfish – covered in a mucus layer – are immune to this sting. The clownfish take shelter inside the anemone’s tentacles. Their bright coloration attracts potential predators who come to eat the clownfish, yet ultimately succumb to the anemone’s stings. The anemone gains it’s nutrients by eating those would-be-predators! The clownfish, being the ever-perfect tenants, will also clean up. When the anemone is dirty, the clownfish eats up the muck, keeping the anemone and themselves happy!
These are some incredible examples of the many ways in which animals create their homes. While anemones and bowers aren’t found around my home of eastern USA, there are definitely some intriguing bird nests, fox dens, and insect galls. What sort of animals homes do you have around your community? Let me know in the comments!
Stay tuned next month to learn more about ancient “living fossils” with the “Prehistoric” theme!
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