If cattle egrets removed ticks from Cape buffalo, would their relationship still be considered commensalism?
No. It would be mutualism. Usually, cattle egrets follow herds of large hoofed mammals (ungulates, such as cattle, buffalo, etc...). They eat the insects that have been stirred up by the buffalo as they move. This relationship is commensalism because the birds benefit but the ungulate is neither harmed nor helped. However, if a cattle egret eats ticks off the hide of the cape buffalo or any other ungulate, the relationship becomes that of mutualism. This is because the ticks can transfer parasites into the blood of the host animal, sickening it. So by eating the ticks off of the cape buffalo, there is now a benefit to both organisms in the relationship. The egrets get food and the cape buffalo receive fewer tick bites and fewer parasitic infections.
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