Examining animal friendships at the nature center

Best friends can come in all shapes and sizes.

In the animal kingdom that can certainly make for some odd pairings. Think of the plover, a small bird, that will fly into a crocodile’s mouth and clean it by eating pieces of food stuck between the teeth.

Such unique and unusual relationships will be the focus of the next installment of Nature Tots at the Dickinson County Nature Center in Okoboji.

“In February we’re going to be doing Nature’s Pals. We’re going to be reading a story called ‘Good Friends’ and teaching about animal mutualism — how animals can live together and help one another in the wild,” said Bryanna Kuhlman, environmental education coordinator at the nature center.

Nature Tots is held once a month for children ages 2-5 and their guardians. The program is free and those interested are asked to register ahead of time as each session is capped at about 25 participants.

Nature’s Pals is set for Wednesday, Feb. 13 with sessions at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, Kuhlman said they thought a program designed around animal friendships and relationships would be a fun idea.

“We’ll do a craft and activity designed around that,” Kuhlman said. “We’ll talk about ant and aphids — how ants chase away lady bugs and in return aphids create dew for ants to eat — and about the osprey and wren and their mutualistic relationship.”

In the birds’ case the wren makes a call when a predator is near the nest and the osprey will come and scare it off in order to protect the eggs for both birds.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for interesting animal interactions. Kuhlman will talk about those and many more during an entertaining, informative and fun morning or afternoon.

There’s a life lesson hidden in there as well.

“These animals may look and act different but they still work together and benefit from the relationship,” Kuhlman said. “Just because someone may be different from you they can still be your friend.”