Tenantism: Concept, How It Works And Examples

The tenantism is the biological phenomenon that describes the interaction that is established between an organism that lives (the tenant) in the space of another (cave, burrow, etc.). An example of tenancy is an insect that lives in the burrow of a squirrel or termites that live in an anthill.

The tenancy is a relationship of commensalism in which the home of one species serves to survive another species. In fact, there are also cases in which one species (its body) is the habitation or refuge of another. For example crustaceans that inhabit whales.

There are direct and simple tenant relationships, but there are other more complex ones that involve several species. For example, a species that lives inside another, which in turn is a tenant of a third.

Plant-plant, animal-animal, plant-animal, and many others that also involve fungi and other organisms can be observed. In the first case, we have as an example epiphytic plants that live on others, but not directly on them, that is, they do not parasitize it.

In the second case, we have as an example the crustaceans that live attached to the skin of a whale. This takes them for hundreds or thousands of kilometers, traveling safe paths, protected from predators and with access to a lot of food.

Finally, in the animal-plant case, we have crustaceans that live in carnivorous plants which they help to digest their prey. None of them eat each other, if not others. The same receptacle of the carnivorous plant serves as a refuge, and its food fluids, for certain mosquitoes.

How does tenancy work?

The tenancy works as a mechanism for obtaining benefits without prejudice to the grantor. The species that donates, or allows the use of its domicile, loses nothing; the tenant species gets scraps of food, physical protection (shelter), etc.

If the tenant species inhabits another that moves, it also obtains a means of transport.

Inhabilinism works as an interspecific interaction and involves different species.

Benefits for the tenant

The key to this interaction is that the tenant receives a series of benefits that do not mean harm to the host organism. It is more of a guest than a tenant, because it does not necessarily have to provide a benefit to the host. In other words, you are a tenant who does not pay rent.

If the host is damaged, it is parasitism

In a way, all species are either tenants of some, or hosts of others. Let’s take trees as an example: they provide physical support for the coexistence of other plants or birds, or even internally, as burrows for many different animal species.

None of these species harm the tree. If it does, it is not a case of tenantism but of parasitism, which also usually occurs with some pests.

Tenant relations are observed in all main rooms. Humans have, for example, many species of mites that are our tenants … for life.

Others, however, are not pleasant residents, and they really infest and / or parasitize us.

Examples of tenant species

For zoologists in particular, a tenant animal species is one that lives as a commensal in the residence of another animal species. There it is used to obtain shelter and food.

Some insects (many different species, in fact) can live in vole burrows and feed on waste left by homeowners. They can also feed on the fungi that reside in the burrow. There, everyone has their community refuge.

Plants, on the other hand, physically constitute a refuge themselves. They provide adherence or construction support, or more internally, of habitation for many different species. These involve insects, arachnids, crustaceans, mollusks, algae, other plants, vertebrates , etc.


Certain, but not all, insects make good plant tenants. Among them we find some beetles. These, in addition, can be tenants of colonies of ants in other environments.

In fact, the nests of termites and ants, not necessarily in plants, can host a great diversity of individuals of different species.

It has also been observed that some ants become tenants of other anthills, even if they are ants of a different species. There they obtain shelter and food.

On the other hand, sometimes the queen of a bee hive also becomes a forced tenant of another hive, eating the food of the resident queen.

Birds and other vertebrates

Plants allow the construction of nests for birds, which are not harmful to them. These tenants derive more benefits from a healthy and strong plant than from one that is not. A resistant plant, with good foliage and good bearing, constitutes an excellent home for these species that, for the most part, do not represent an additional cost for them.

Although it seems strange, because it seems to suffer physical damage, a tree can also provide an interior shelter in its trunk to certain mammals (squirrels), amphibians (salamanders) and birds (owls).

Our houses are also a refuge for small mammals that do not pose major dangers, unless their populations get out of control and become a plague.


The clearest case of inquilinism in plants is represented by epiphytic (non-parasitic) plants. In this case, the epiphytic plant, as its name indicates, lives on another that provides it with an address. They fixate on them, isolate themselves from the ground, and absorb water from rain or from the environment.

In most cases this joint coexistence does not represent a burden for the plant that houses the tenants. Some well-known epiphytes include orchids and bromeliads. The plants are also excellent shelter for tenants lichens, ferns and mosses.


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