Tag Archives: self-medication

Zoopharmacognosy – Critter, heal thyself

detailed drawing of a starling

Starlings know how to protect themselves from infestation, using secretions from ants. Image: The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) (UK)

Next time you say “I need some caffeine for this headache,” remember this. Other animals, besides humans, have healing traditions passed down over generations. Who knew? The field of study, called zoopharmacognosy, examines self-medication in animals.

An episode of Nature on PBS television reports on several practices by primates, like the ones who eat charcoal to counteract effects of poisons in the plants they consume, and teach their young to do the same. The charcoal-eating progeny are able to survive better, and can eat a greater variety of plants.

Other monkeys figured out the antibacterial and antifungal properties of certain leaves and the insect-repellent secreted by millipedes. And Instead of slugging Kaopectate, some monkeys learned to eat dirt with high kaolin content, to combat diarrhea.

According to an article in Cosmos Magazine, when an African Elephant wants to induce labor (she carries her pregnancy for two years) she knows to snack from a tree not usually in her diet.

Like the monkeys with the millipedes, starlings do a similar routine, using ant secretions to protect them from feather lice and mites.

Sources
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/clever-monkeys/monkeys-and-medicinal-plants/3957/
http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/3930/full
http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/s/starling/index.aspx