Symbiotic Partnership

Symbiotic Partnership

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  • February 15, 2016

I have long admired the writings of Lewis Thomas, a medical scientist and gifted science writer, for his curiosity into the natural world. So, while it probably won’t clock up the necessary finance related keywords on Google, I hoped to share one such gem with you about the female of a species of beetle, oncideres, and the rather remarkable agenda on her mind when seeking to lay her eggs. It may just teach us a little something about partnership.

Her first thought is to find a mimosa tree, which she climbs, ignoring all other kinds of trees in the vicinity. Her second thought is to crawl out on a limb, cutting a small slit with her mandible and depositing her eggs beneath the slit. Her third and last thought concerns the welfare of her offspring; beetle larvae cannot survive in live wood, so she backs up a foot or so and cuts a neat circular girdle all around the limb, through the bark and down into the cambium. It takes her eight hours to do this. The limb dies from the girdling, falls to the ground in the next breeze, the larvae feed and grow into the next generation. Now, how she figured this out is a wonderful mystery in itself but that’s not the point of this piece.

If left to themselves, unpruned, mimosa trees have a life expectancy of twenty-five to thirty years. But, if pruned each year, which is what the beetle’s girdling accomplishes, the tree can flourish for a century.

The mimosa-beetle relationship is an elegant example of symbiotic partnership, a phenomenon now recognised as pervasive in nature. It is good for us to have around on our intellectual mantelpiece such creatures as this insect and its friend the tree, for they keep reminding us how much we have to learn from nature.

So, in the spirit of partnership, and perhaps, like our smart little beetle, going out on a limb to create opportunity, we would like to spread the news that we too have found our mimosa tree.

Watch this space.

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