Early animal psychologist Jakob von Uexküll (1865–1944) cares for the animals he describes. He writes about them delicately, but in such depth and with such specificity that we are transported smoothly into their realm. His scholarship resonates with me and accompanies biology and pseudoscience in fueling my work.
“Here we may glimpse the worlds of the lowly dwellers of the meadow. To do so, we must first blow, in fancy, a soap bubble around each creature to represent its own world, filled with the perceptions which it alone knows… the world as it appears to the animals themselves, not as it appears to us… the self-world of the animal.”*
Uexküll holds that the self-world, or the Umwelt, emanates from every organism’s sense organs and represents the extent of its sensory field. The overlap of two animals’ respective Umwelten is the site I extract for investigation, as denoted by the icon above each illustration of intimate interspecies relationships. Each pair of animals exhibits symbiosis: the living together of unlike organisms.
Below each symbiotic pair, another icon is distilled whose form represents the two animals’ spatial interaction. These distillations are projected three-dimensionally into forms that solidify the animals’ interdependency– how their lives cross into one another.
*Jakob von Uexküll, “A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds,” Instinctive Behavior: The Development of a Modern Concept (1934, transl. 1957): 5.
Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus / Tongue-eating Louse Cymothoa exigua
The Red Snapper and the Tongue-eating Louse live in symbiosis together. The Tongue-eating Louse lives most of its life cycle in the mouth of one of several families of fish. Once attached to the host’s tongue, the parasite draws blood until the tongue shrinks away to a stub of muscle. Here it spends the rest of its time, feeding on the fish’s blood or mucus. The parasitic louse benefits from their relationship to the detriment of the host fish, so they exemplify a form of Parasitism.
"As juveniles, we enter the host fish through the gills and eventually make our way to the tongue, where we hold ourselves with our claws and make ourselves at home."
"Once the tongue is reduced to a mere stub, the host fish uses my body as a tongue. We rely on the fish for food and a home, and the host relies on us as a new tongue. This is the only known instance of a parasite replacing a host’s organ."
Projection of Shared Space: Mouth & Gills
Portuguese Man O’ War Physalia physalis / Blue Dragon Sea Slug Glaucus atlanticus
The Portuguese Man O’ War and the Blue Dragon Sea Slug live in symbiosis together. The parasitic slug feeds on the Man O’ War and steals its defense mechanisms. The slug benefits from their relationship to the detriment of the host, so they exemplify a form of Parasitism. The Man O’ War is a floating colony of individual organisms called zooids, each of which specializes in either digesting, reproducing, or paralyzing prey. Atop the colony is a sail filled with carbon monoxide and nitrogen for staying afloat. The sea slug floats upside-down along the surface by swallowing air.
"The Man O’ War’s long tentacles are coated with nematocysts, specialized stinging cells for stunning prey. A barb is stored inside-out in a venom-filled chamber."
"When the cell’s trigger is tripped, the cell opens and the barb unfurls, firing a poisoned tether into prey. Millions of stinging cells work together in this way to hold and paralyze prey."
"The toxic sting from the Man O’ War does not deter us; we are able to consume the toxic cnidocytes and reuse them to defend ourselves. Our stomach extends into our cerrata (c), where these stolen stinging cells are stored to fend off predators."
Projection of Shared Component: Stolen Stinging Cell
Bobtail Squid Subfamily: Sepiolinae / Bioluminescent Bacteria Vibrio fischeri
The Bobtail Squid and its Bioluminescent Bacteria live in symbiosis together. The squid cultivates this strain of bacteria in a specialized organ by feeding it amino acids and oxygen. In return for a perfect home to proliferate, the bacteria’s glow provides camouflage for the squid. Because they both benefit from the relationship, they exemplify a form of Mutualism.
"The juvenile squid’s photophore (p) develops four appendages whose vibrating hairs pull seawater into pores. Once the smallest trace of Vibrio fischeri bacteria is detected, we are detained, and everything else is expelled. We quickly reproduce in the crypts (c), and the appendages begin to shrink away."
"Our glow allows the squid to counterilluminate: the underbelly is lit so that the squid is hidden against the moonlit surface from predators lurking below. The adult photophore (p) where we live is shrouded by the ink sac (is). Acting like a dimmer switch, the ink sac adjusts in size depending on the moon’s brightness, letting through the right amount of light."
Projection of Shared Space: Light Organ
Boxer Crab Lybia tessellata / Sea Anemone Triactis producta
The Boxer Crab and the Triactis sea anemone live in symbiosis together. The crab’s claws are too small to defend itself, so it perpetually carries two of these sea anemones, whose toxic stinging cells defend both animals against predators. The anemones are also used to comb the water for food particles. The crab picks out the large particles with its mouthparts, leaving the surplus for the anemones to eat. They both benefit from the relationship, so it is a form of Mutualism.
"We anemones usually attach ourselves to the seafloor and develop vesicles (v). Vesicles contain photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae, which produce food for us in the daytime. Our stinging pseudotentacles (p) defend our vesicles. At night we catch prey with our larger, primary tentacles."
"Those of us taken up by a Boxer Crab get our fill of the crab’s leftovers, so we don’t develop the photosynthetic vesicles for daytime food-production. The crab’s claws are adapted for gently gripping us, as it is in his interest to not squish us."
Projection of Shared Component: Anemone’s Stinging Cell
Watchman Goby Family: Gobiidae / Pistol Shrimp Family: Alpheidae
The Watchman Goby and the Pistol Shrimp live in symbiosis together. The nearly blind shrimp digs an elaborate tunnel for a home. The Goby then moves in with the shrimp and is allowed to live there if he serves as a lookout. Because the shrimp is vulnerable to predators when he leaves the hole, the Goby keeps an eye out for danger and watches over the blind landlord when they venture out. They both benefit from the relationship, so it is a form of Mutualism.
"When one of us needs to step outside, I always keep an antenna on my friend to make sure he’s nearby."
"With Goby watching my back, I often do some gardening in my algae patch before supper."
Projection of Shared Space: Tunnel for Two
Pigmented inkjet prints from graphite and digital media, ABS plastic, handmade MDF pedestals. 2013.