Symbiosis in the Dinosauria

Some animals alive today relay on the assistance of other animals to help them keep clean and tidy.  Tropical fish on coral reefs deliberately visit areas where “cleaner fish” congregate and they patiently wait whilst these fish clean them and remove dead skin and parasites.  In Africa, the Oxpecker (Buphagus spp.), a type of starling, regularly hitch a ride on the back of a large mammals, such as elephants and pick dead skin and parasites from their host’s hide.  These birds also catch insects disturbed as the large animals move through the scrub and bush.

It is very likely that these sorts of mutually beneficial relationships between different species occurred in the past and with dinosaurs.

A Big, Carnivorous Dinosaur Gets Her Teeth Cleaned

An example of symbiosis in the Dinosauria

Teeth cleaning in the Dinosauria.  Small Theropod dinosaurs clean the teeth of a larger carnivore.

Picture Credit: Sergey Krasovskiy

Symbiosis – Classroom Extension Ideas

Mutually beneficial activities are termed symbiotic relationships by scientists.  In the picture (above), a large Theropod dinosaur is getting its teeth cleaned by a smaller, meat-eating dinosaur.  The large dinosaur benefits from the teeth cleaning as it helps to prevent infections whilst the smaller Theropod is getting a free meal.  Symbiosis is the term used to describe an interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association to the benefit of both.

  • Can your class find examples of mutual co-operation (symbiosis) in the natural world?
  • Can the class consider ways that pupils and staff at the school co-operate together?