Examples of Animal Altruism and Symbiosis to Warm your Chilly Soul

It’s no secret that January and February can be a tough time for a lot of us.  Perhaps you’ve heard of “Blue Monday,”  the third Monday in January that is said to be the saddest day of the year.  Here at High Touch High Tech we’re happy to tell you that “Blue Monday” is bunk science and was made up for a marketing campaign.  But at the same time, actual science does point to this time of year as being legitimately hard on our wellbeing for many reasons: the cold, darkness, and feelings of inadequacy and lack after the glitter of the holidays being among them.  In these isolated times, it’s easy to feel lonely and disconnected. 

Somewhere out there, a Clownfish is chilling in its Anemone
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, it might help to know that in the bigger ecological picture, our world is less cold and cruel than it may seem.  There is truly a place in nature for connection, safety, and peace.  Radically different species all over the world form long-term “you help me, I’ll help you” relationships with each other to survive and thrive.  These relationships, where each partner benefits, are known as mutualism.  Altruism among animals, where one organism gives expecting nothing in return, is more controversial but some scientists believe that it has been conclusively documented.  From bacteria in the deepest sea to an anonymous scientist on the end of a blog reaching out to comfort a stranger, all living things are connected, including you.  We hope these stories of animal altruism and mutualism provide a little warmth and light to your world today.

Somewhere out there, an Oxpecker bird is helping its Wildebeest with pesky ticks

Humpback Whales to the Rescue

Somewhere out there, a Humpback Whale is protecting its calf

Animal behavioral scientists use the word “altruism” sparingly, but there have been examples that seem to indicate a sense of kindness in certain animals, such as when a gorilla was documented protecting a human child that fell into its enclosure.  Most possible examples of non-human kindness have been seen in captive animals, but what about the dog-eat-dog, its-a-jungle-out-there world of the wild?  Is the natural world truly devoid of kindness?  Never fear, Humpback Whales to the rescue!  Humpback Whales certainly seem tuned in to the needs of others, and may be “the nicest animals in the world.”  These extremely social creatures spend years raising their vulnerable calves and protecting them from predators. They have also been spotted actively rescuing seals from killer whale attack.  In 2009 researchers documented a case of a single seal, who was being chased by a pod of killer whales and had been pushed into the water.  A humpback whale came up next to the seal, rolled on its back, and carried the very surprised seal to safety!  Humpbacks have been known to protect humans from sharks as well.  If any animal can be classified as being kind, it’s the Humpback Whale.

Partnership in the Abyss

Somewhere way down there, a tubeworm colony is thriving on a volcano

Mutualism is an arrangement seen among animals that is defined as “you help me, I help you.”  A famous example is the tiny cleaner fish that fearlessly enters the mouths of much bigger fish to eat the parasites that irritate their big friends.  The tiny fish gets food and the larger one gets nice clean teeth. There are many cases of mutualism, but one in particular showcases the power that mutualism has to overcome even the most impossible of circumstances.  Deep sea hydrothermal vents were only discovered in 1977, to the astonishment of scientists.  These underwater volcanoes spew out mineral and metal-rich water and can reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit.  As if that weren’t enough, these vents are so far down that sunlight has NEVER reached them.  But even there in the harshest abyss is mutualism. 

Tube Worms, just tube wormin’

The creatures known as tube worms have no stomach, gut, or mouth.  Yet they live in great numbers on these vents and provide food and shelter for other animals, creating the basis of an improbable ecosystem that might be more at home in deep space.  The entire vent community exists because of the tube worm’s mutualism with an incredible bacteria that does not depend on sunlight for food.  Instead of photosynthesis, this bacteria performs chemosynthesis, and converts the metals and minerals into energy that the tube worms can survive on.  The bacteria live in a special organ called the trophosome, inside the tube worm’s body.  The tube worm pulls minerals into its root, and oxygen from its gill-like plumes.  These compounds nourish the bacteria, which convert vent minerals into carbon just as photosynthetic chloroplasts in plants turn sunlight into carbon.  This carbon energy supports the tubeworms that, in turn, nourish life in the abyss.

Fortunata the Marmoset

Somewhere out there, an adorable marmoset is having a snack
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ants are sometimes said to keep aphids as “pets,” feeding them, protecting them, and generally fussing over them.  However, the ants are using the aphids more as domestic animals, feeding off of the sweet nectar they produce.  This is better considered as mutualism, a partnership in nature where both animals benefit.  Do we know of any wild animals that keep others around as pets in the way that we would, purely for fun and affection? Chimpanzees have been seen playing affectionately with small rodents called hyraxes, but usually kill and eat them once bored. It’s controversial, but a group of Capuchin monkeys was observed in the wild taking in a much tinier marmoset orphan, nicknamed Fortunata.  They fed her, held her, and carried her on their backs.  They even visibly adjusted their the force of their movements so they wouldn’t injure the tiny marmoset.  Little Fortunata was raised by the Capuchins from infancy to adulthood, and was treated as gently as a beloved pet until the day she disappeared, likely taken by a predator.

Sources and Further Reading:

Blue Monday Debunked: https://www.msn.com/en-ie/news/other/is-blue-monday-real-the-science-behind-the-most-depressing-day-of-the-year/ar-AASRCor

Introduction to Symbiosis and Mutualism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eChtyqSqUIs

Humpback Whale Altruism in the Wild: https://whalescientists.com/humpback-whales-altruism/

Humpback Whale Protects Human: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXNCCdcBhcY

Gorilla Protects Child: https://www.foxnews.com/science/watch-a-gorilla-rescue-a-boy-that-fell-into-its-pit-in-1996

Symbiosis at Hydrothermal Vents: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3gRQEOC6M4

More on Chemosynthetic Bacteria: https://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/deep-sea-tubeworms-get-versatile-inside-help/

Fortunata the Marmoset: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animals-and-us/201006/are-humans-the-only-animals-keep-pets


Terry GossCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We love sharks at High Touch High Tech.  We are proud shark nerds.  This week is Kiss A Shark Week, a week to celebrate cool stuff about sharks, and show these misunderstood predators some respect!  First appearing in the fossil record a whopping 410 million years ago, sharks have been evolving into every possible ecological niche in the ocean long before dinosaurs were even a gleam in mother earth’s eye.  Tigers, Bulls, and Great Whites tend to get all the press, but there are over four hundred different species of sharks, all of them wonderful in their own sharky ways!  In honor of Kiss A Shark Week, we will rate our top favorite sharks that aren’t the big three.  Let’s rate sharks:

GREENLAND SHARK (Somniosus Microcephalus)

Hemming1952CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have you seen that creepy, huge shark footage going around the internet purporting to be MEGALODON?  Sorry to crush your hopes, but nope, that’s probably this handsome guy.  The Greenland Shark is found mainly in the freezing depths of the Arctic and Atlantic.  He has been spotted at depths of up to seven thousand feet, and maybe sometimes … in your nightmares?  All of his talent and charming good looks never went to his head, though.  He’s content letting the big three have the fame, even though this dude has been found with whole reindeer in his stomach, can grow to 24 feet (or bigger), and is, btw, the oldest living vertebrate on earth

Greenland shark, 14/10, a real deep guy and super chill

The Greenland Shark’s (or possibly its close cousin the Sleeper Shark’s) Megalodon Moment:

The Greenland Shark Observatory: https://geerg.ca/en/greenland-shark/

TASSELED WOBBEGONG (Eucrossorhinus Dasypogon)

jon hansonCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Who is SHE?  When she’s not snatching unsuspecting prey around the warm reefs of the Indian and Pacific ocean, this dewy beauty clearly loves trying out the latest makeup trends.  Even her name is fabulous!  Wobbegong is an Australian Aboriginal word, meaning “bearded.”  With her gorgeous fringes framing her face and flawless camouflage patterns up and down her body, this reef-dwelling, stealth-hunting  beauty is mysterious and fascinating, but you never quite know where she’ll pop up next.  

Wobbegong, 12/10, Stunning, unconventional style but watch out, she might ghost ya

Feast your eyes on all this beauty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbslHWZJUBk

Strut, queen, strut: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbv2DhcKAh4

SALMON SHARK (Lamna Ditropis)

Watch out!  He’s quick!  Built like a lil’ Ferrari of the ocean, this sleek marine minimalist is one of the fastest and, dare we say, pointiest sharks out there!  Related to the ultra-fast Mako Shark, this perfectly contoured fellow can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour.  Why go so fast?  Apparently this cool customer is a sushi connoisseur, eating a diet mainly of salmon and squid that he chases down with ease in the icy Alaskan waters he calls home. The fresher, the better, right?

Salmon Shark:  13/10, love the minimalist aesthetic

Swimming with Salmon Sharks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDrrycK5lGM

The Fastest Sharks in the World: https://www.sharksider.com/three-fastest-sharks-world/

FRILLED SHARK (Chlamydoselachus Anguineus)

© Citron

Let’s set the record straight here.  One of the oldest still-extant sharks there is, going back all the way to the pre-dinosaur CARBONIFEROUS PERIOD, our Frilled Shark buddy is considered “a living fossil,” and we’re here to put some respect on his name!  Why? Well you might have seen our buddy from a viral clip of him where’s he not feeling his best and has come up to the surface to die, only to be rudely captured by someone who happens to have a camera.  Then the video showed up on YouTube, where they labeled him a “sea monster!” The nerve. Let’s give this guy some justice and let him show you his suave, smooth, and frilly side while he’s healthy and in his favorite environment: the Freezing, Endless Blackness of the Abyss!

Frilled Shark, 14/10, the Goth of Sharks and we’re so here for that

Frilled Shark on a Bad Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mneDhOtVEQw

On a Good Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYH32gKMHuc

COOKIE CUTTER SHARK (Isistius Brasiliensis)

Awww, what a cute little shark.  He’s so teeny, he must be one of the many species of sharks that are very small!  Hey little guy!  Aww, look at his lil’ belly and his lil’ sharky face!  Wait …. he does WHAT with those teeth?  One of nature’s finest opportunists, this little angel lurks in the deep until a fine, fleshy, usually much bigger morsel swims along, then attaches to it and bites a CIRCLE out of it!  They get a nice nugget to eat and none of that pesky waste of energy.  The victims, however, are left with:

the  cookie cutter shark was only extensively studied by scientists when the US Navy had to go on a hunt to figure out who was taking tiny, circular bites out of its SUBMARINES. 

Cookie Cutter Shark, 11/10, you have to admire the chutzpah

Everything you need to know about the Cookie Cutter (bonus, HUGE Goblin Shark too): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7a8XuYgoH8c

MEGAMOUTH (Megachasma Pelagios)

CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

With a cool name like Megamouth you might be expecting an absolute ROCK STAR of sharkdom.  And you would be right!  Dodging all press for centuries, and doing her own creative thing on the deep ocean floor, this giant enigma wrapped in a mystery first premiered in 1976, absolutely rocking the world of science.  Thrilled by Megamouth’s influential first appearance, her inspired fans speculated that if she was down in the depths, what other life could be there, waiting to be discovered?  Megamouth is so reclusive that she has only been encountered, alive or dead, about 100 times.  Studies indicate that she is a filter feeder of the deep that gathers food in her giant bioluminescent mouth!  Did we say giant?  We meant it.  Check out the footage of her swimming right by a diver — and side-eyeing that tiny paparazzo to filth on her way back to her studio. 

Megamouth, 13/10, debut rocked harder than Led Zeppelin’s, can’t wait for her next album

Diver’s Surprise encounter with Megamouth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS1RgcPSr8M

Megamouth Live in Japan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHiL7MPAZ0g


So Shark Nerds, which exceedingly ancient cartilaginous ocean-dominating friend do you like the most?  Put your favorite shark in the comments below, we’ll rate it!   

If you want to put some serious respect on the Elasmobranch name for Kiss a Shark Week, consider a donation at the Shark Trust: https://www.sharktrust.org/shark-conservation

or the American Shark Conservancy: https://www.americansharkconservancy.org/

Cluttered Desk, Cluttered Mind? Maybe Not.

The holidays are long done, and the greyness of midwinter is all around us.  Whether you are back in your office now or working from home, sitting back down to start a new year at your work desk can be daunting, especially if the same piles of files, notebooks, junk mail, and post-it notes from 2021 are still there to greet you.  A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind, right?  Behavioral Science shows that for some of us, that’s absolutely true. But, if you happen to like your personal domain just the messy way it is, don’t let the organizers of the world desk-shame you.  According to scientific studies, and the example of several famous scientists, a perfectly organized and clean desk isn’t the only way to work in a productive and creative manner.  As Albert Einstein, captain of a famously messy desk himself, said: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Albert Einstein, member of the Messy Desk Club

An organized desk is a wonderful thing, but it’s theorized that messy desks may actually allow for more creativity.  Einstein was just one of numerous scientists who had shockingly messy workspaces. If your desk is a mess then you are in the company of Steve Jobs, Alan Turing, Thomas Edison, and —  owner of a monumentally messy desk – Isaac Newton.  Psychologist Bill Crawford says that there is room in the world for both the organized and the cluttered.  According to him, the best desk is a desk that allows you to be productive and creative, no matter how it looks.   But for some people, it seems that being in the center of what looks like clutter actually allows them to see the full range of their work, remind them of projects, and, most importantly, see interconnections between everything they are working on.

Isaac Newton, member of the Messy Desk Club

People who work better from a clean desk should keep it clean and organized, because that is what’s good for them.  But there’s no need to side-eye that messy colleague.  Eric Abrahamson, author of  A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, says that: “While it might appear otherwise, a messy desk isn’t devoid of order.  What seems like a mess can actually be a highly effective prioritizing and accessing system. On a messy desk, the most time sensitive projects tend to be found at the top of the pile, while the work that gets ignored tends to get relegated to the bottom.  Not having a strict system can lend itself to more innovative ideas when you least expect it.”  Some of the messiest of desks, after all,  were the birthplace of some of the greatest ideas, such as the theory of gravity and the modern computer!

Alan Turing, member of the Messy Desk Club

The clean desk vs. messy desk debate has been going on so long that there have actually been some serious scientific studies on it.  Social Psychologist and Applied Behavioral Scientist Dr. Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota explored how a clean desk versus a messy desk might affect behavior.  Does clutter really clutter the mind?  In her study, researchers had participants fill out questionnaires in both orderly and cluttered spaces.  After this activity they were asked if they wanted to donate to charity, and offered a snack of an apple or some dark chocolate.  Those who were in the clean room were more likely to opt for philanthropy and a healthy snack.  Those in the messy room took the chocolate and fewer opted to donate.  Participants in each room were also asked to come up with new ideas for the use of ping pong balls.  Participants in both spaces came up with the same number of ideas, but the messy room’s ideas were rated as more creative by judges.  

Thomas Edison, Member of the Messy Desk Club, at his Messy Desk

Vohs concluded that “disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can encourage fresh insights.”  In contrast, orderly environments appear to encourage convention and playing it safe.  No matter what your desk looks like, the science says that there is room for all preferences at the…um…desk, because all no matter if you are an organizer or a clutterer, your way of working has its advantages.  Happy National Clean Your Desk (or not) Day!

References and Further Reading:

Talk by Eric Abrahamson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy4xm3n2iXE

Dr. Bill Crawford: What Does Your Desk Say About You? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1TtsP4Wvdk

Successful People with Messy Desks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLSEIDITJns

The Work of Dr. Kathleen Vohs (link to article on study at bottom of page): https://thedecisionlab.com/thinkers/psychology/kathleen-vohs/

Thanks, Science! The Best Discoveries of 2021

Happy 2022!  2021 was certainly…a year.  Although things have not been easy, 2021 was a benchmark year for science.  The biggest science story of 2021 is undoubtedly the effort to develop and distribute vaccines across the entire world, all while responding our ever-evolving and wily foe, COVID.  The scientific community across the world has seen some of its darkest and its finest hours in this worldwide fight, and we at High Touch High Tech salute every single scientific professional involved in this profound historical moment. 

In times like these, it’s easy for other scientific discoveries to slip through the cracks.  As 2022 dawns, let’s take a moment to ponder some of the other discoveries that made 2021 such an important year for science.


People all over the world cheered when both the United States, and later China, landed autonomous rovers on Mars.  For the Perseverance Mars Rover Team, it first involved a hair-raising parachute landing on Mars.  Since the Perseverance Rover landed, it has been able to launch a mini-helicopter that was the first controlled human flight on another planet.  It has also converted Carbon Dioxide into Oxygen to prove it could be done for future colonization on Mars, and begun to do what it was specially designed for: gathering samples of Mars that will be sent back to earth in hopes of detecting signs of alien life.  The Perseverance Rover could revolutionize our understanding of our place in the universe by answering one of the biggest questions in all of science!


CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


23,000 years ago, a rather flat-footed teenager walked along the shores of an ancient lake that is now located in New Mexico’s White Sands National Park.  In 2021, this now-fossilized stroll revolutionized our understanding of how long humans have been in the Americas, and opened fascinating new questions of how humans arrived here.  It was once believed that Indigenous Americans had only been in America for about 13,000 years, descended from a small band that migrated across a land bridge in Asia.  These footprints, described by archaeologist Ciprian Ardelean as “very close to finding the Holy Grail,” cast the old theory, known as “Clovis First” into serious doubt.  The footprints were made at a time when it is believed that glaciers had walled off passage to the Americas, raising intriguing new questions about Indigenous American arrival.  Could it have been by sea?  We hope the coming years will bring us more answers to this fascinating mystery.



This milestone medical breakthrough was understandably overshadowed by other issues in global public health, but it represents a moment that both medical researchers and their patients have been waiting for for years.  In October 2020, doctors in New York City’s Langone Medical Center transplanted a kidney from a genetically-altered pig into a human.  They were able to monitor the transplant extensively and confirmed that it was working normally, although the long-term prospect of rejection is still unknown.  The field of “Xenotransplantation,” or transplanting tissues from non-humans into humans, is still new but could soon develop a sustainable source of organs for people in need across the world.


Adyah Ningtyas
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Common


The discovery of a very big Warty Pig painted in a cave in Sulawesi, Indonesia, pushed the earliest known instance of an animal image back by several thousand years.   Sketched in red ochre, the Warty Pig (pictured above – it’s a real species still living in Indonesia today), was dated by the mineral formations on its surface.  It’s not the oldest known painting in the world – hand stencils in a cave in Spain or possibly even a drawn-on rock from South Africa may be older.  But, the previous record-holder for oldest animal image comes from France’s Chauvet Cave, with a date of 33,000 years ago.  The Warty Pig painting doesn’t just tell us more about the birth of human symbolic and abstract thinking, it also provides the earliest evidence of human settlement in the region, giving more credence to the theory that early humans migrated from Africa to Australia 65,000 years ago.


Pablo Carlos Budassi
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


In the wonderfully-named Whirlpool Galaxy (pictured above), only 28 million light years away, astronomers have pinpointed a large and as-yet-mysterious planet, the first ever identified outside of our own Milky Way Galaxy.  The planet seems to be orbiting a star that itself is orbiting with an extremely dense object, possibly a neutron star or black hole. The dense object causes the X-rays from the star’s gas to glow, and the possible exoplanet was spotted when it passed in front of the glow.  Believed to be about the size of Saturn, the exoplanet may not return to visibility for 70 years, but it does reinforce the potential of X-ray wavelengths as a strategy to locate distant planets.


Mike Pennington / Stegosaurus skeleton, National Museums of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

In case you want more scientific breakthroughs (and who doesn’t?) here are a few more amazing discoveries from 2021:











Sources and Further Reading:

National Geographic:




The Natural History Museum of Utah: