Scientists have recorded an unusual alliance between warthogs and banded mongooses in Uganda.
Many mammals indulge in mutual grooming to remove ticks and other parasites from their fur and skin but, aside from the occasional intriguing anecdote, it is unheard of for one mammal species to groom another.
But Andy Plumptre of the Wildlife Conservation Society reports that just such cross-species co-operation regularly occurs between warthogs and banded mongooses in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park.
“Sometimes the warthogs are upright and the mongooses stand on their hind legs to find ticks, and at other times they lie down and allow the mongooses to crawl over them,” Plumptre told BBC Wildlife.
Plumptre is not the only one to have observed the behaviour. Jason Gilchrist, a behavioural ecologist at Edinburgh Napier University, has also witnessed it in the national park.
“It looks to be a mutualistic interaction, much like that between cleaner wrasse and client fish,” said Gilchrist. “The warthogs appear to approach the mongooses, which is similar to a client fish visiting a cleaner wrasse station.”
Both Plumptre and Gilchrist’s observations occurred around the village of Mweya, where the two species are flourishing because of the availability of human food waste.
Gilchrist said that the human presence in the area keeps lions and leopards away. The relaxed atmosphere may mean that the mammals can afford to indulge in more leisurely activities.
“It makes you wonder what else may be happening between species that we don’t see, because in order to see it both species need to be unafraid of people,” said Plumptre.
Either way, he added, the grooming illustrates a great deal of trust. The species’ interactions are not always so friendly, though.
“We have observed warthogs kill and eat mongooses,” said Gilchrist. “Once, a mongoose pup was killed; on another occasion it was an adult.”
Did you know?
Warthogs also enjoy the grooming services of oxpeckers, birds that eat parasites of large mammals. They are even groomed by 1m-tall ground hornbills in South Africa’s Mabula Game Reserve.
Source Suiform Soundings
Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine