Together We Fight
Tourists on an African safari snap photos of tall grasses, bushes, and a couple of acacia trees here and there. In the distance, a group of giraffes graze. Along with the rustling of the wind over the landscape, a gentle whistling resounds. A giraffe approaches and starts munching away on the leaves of one of the acacia trees. Cameras click in rapid succession. Suddenly, the huge mammal utters a horrific grunt of pain and runs away shaking its head. “What just happened?” everybody asks in wonderment. Their tour guide turns to them and says, “Let me tell you about a peculiar and special relationship between a tree and a type of ant here in Africa.” In the savannas of Africa the acacia tree grows strong and tall. Its branches do not touch any other trees, even among other acacias. The reason for such healthy growth originates from its extraordinary mutualistic relationship with the stinging ants that inhabit its thorns. Nearly eight hundred different species of acacia trees exist in the world, some of which host and species that live nowhere else. One of the East African acacia species, the Acacia drepanolobium, is more commonly known as the Whistling Thorn. The name comes from the whistling noise that fills the air whenever wind blows over holes at the base of its thorns, holes made by the ants. The Whistling Thorn acacia can grow up to eighteen feet in height. It has a slim yet strong trunk, with branches that spread out to form an inviting spring-green umbrella of foliage. Because of the extreme heat, the tree’s leaves, made up of tiny leaflets also known as pinna, collect moisture from dew at night. The water from the dew aids the leaflets to avoid the sunlight, thus helping reduce the tree’s temperature. The pinnae also assist the tree to absorb sunlight in colder weather. The reproductive cycle of the Whistling Thorn begins in the early rainy season with the blooming of fragrant,...
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