Bowtruckles and the power of sticking together

The Natural History Museum

Explore the stories behind the Fantastic Beasts™: The Wonder of Nature exhibition. Learn how co-operative, co-habiting animals and plants benefit from mutualism – much like the magical Bowtruckle and its wand-wood tree.

BowtruckleThe Natural History Museum

'The Bowtruckle is a tree-guardian creature found mainly in the west of England, southern Germany and certain Scandinavian forests. It is immensely difficult to spot, being small (maximum eight inches in height) and apparently made of bark and twigs with two small brown eyes.

The Bowtruckle, which eats insects, is a peaceable and intensely shy creature but if the tree in which it lives is threatened, it has been known to leap down upon the woodcutter or tree-surgeon attempting to harm its home and gouge at their eyes with its long, sharp fingers. An offering of woodlice will placate the Bowtruckle long enough to let a witch or wizard remove wand-wood from its tree.'
– Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them™

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.

Bowtruckle treeThe Natural History Museum

Pickett's portable home

Newt cares for several Bowtruckles and often carries one of them, named Pickett, around in his pocket.

Newt keeps a small cutting of a wand-wood tree on his desk so that Pickett has somewhere to rest.

PickettThe Natural History Museum

Teaming up for safety

Bowtruckles protect the trees they live in and gain a safe home in return.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Bowtruckle treeThe Natural History Museum

Many animals and plants have relationships where they benefit from co-operating or living together. This is called a mutualism. Sometimes one animal will provide protection, while another will provide food or shelter.

See how these animals and plants have evolved to stay safe from predators thanks to their unlikely companions.

Whistling thorn acacia Whistling thorn acaciaThe Natural History Museum

The giraffe, the ant and the spiny tree

Swollen spines of a whistling thorn acacia (Vachellia drepanolobium)

Whistling thorn acacia trees protect themselves with hundreds of sharp spines. The base of these spines also provides a home for ants.

Whistling thorn acaciaThe Natural History Museum

The whistling thorn acacia gets its name from the sound the wind makes as it blows across the openings of the ants' spiny homes.

Acacia ants Acacia antsThe Natural History Museum

Acacia ants (Crematogaster mimosae)

Much like the magical Bowtruckles protecting their homes, these ants fiercely defend the tree from anything trying to eat its leaves.

The ants' bites and venom can even fend off giraffes and elephants.

Juvenile giraffe Juvenile giraffeThe Natural History Museum

Young giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)

Giraffe calves are particularly sensitive to ant attacks, while older giraffes are less affected.

Many large African herbivores (plant eaters) such as elephants and giraffes are under serious threat and their numbers are declining fast.

Scientists have found that when there are no herbivores grazing on the whistling thorn acacia, the tree stops producing spiny homes for its ant bodyguards.

Juvenile giraffeThe Natural History Museum

As this relationship breaks down, the ants are often replaced by another species that can damage the tree, causing slower growth and higher death rates for the acacia.

When conserving our wildlife it is important to not focus just on a single species but on their habitat and their interaction with other plants and animals.

Red-billed oxpeckerThe Natural History Museum

Raising the alarm

Red-billed oxpeckers (Buphagus erythrorhynchus)

Red-billed oxpeckers feed on the parasites found on large grazing animals such as rhinos. While the bird gets a good meal, its host benefits from the removal of blood-sucking ticks, as well as a handy alarm system.

If an oxpecker spots a predator, such as a human, approaching, it flies off making a shrill call that rhinos and other animals have learned to respond to.

Oxpecker alarms are not enough to defend against poachers however. Between 1970 and 1992, black rhino (Diceros bicornis) populations decreased by 96%, mainly due to illegal hunting for their horns.

Red-billed oxpeckerThe Natural History Museum

Amazing ability
Alerting other animals to danger

Where to find them
East and Southeast Africa, often perching on grazing animals

Dotted humming frogThe Natural History Museum

Unexpected housemates

Dotted humming frog (Chiasmocleis ventrimaculata)

This tiny dotted humming frog makes its home in a tarantula's burrow. No one knows exactly why the two live together.

Colombian lesserblack tarantulaThe Natural History Museum

Colombian lesserblack tarantula (Xenesthis immanis)

The spider may benefit when the frog eats insects that try to feed on its eggs. In return the frog gets a big, hairy companion to keep it safe. The frog's toxic skin probably means that the spider does not want to eat it.

Amazing ability
Living in harmony with its companion

Where to find them
Hiding in burrows in the rainforests of north-western South America

Credits: Story

For more information and to book tickets to the exhibition, visit the Museum's website.

To find out more about the Wizarding World, visit

WIZARDING WORLD and all related trademarks, characters, names, and indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s21)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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