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Animals’ Innate Ability to Self-Medicate

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Today we will discover some fascinating examples of how animals are able to heal themselves through self-medication, or zoopharmacognosy, by using their intuitive abilities to detect the healing properties of plants. Parasite removal is the most common use of natural therapeutic medicines by animals.

In a couple of well documented cases, sick chimpanzees swallowed the juice of the Vernonia Amygdalina plant, a member of the daisy family, which is so bitter that chimpanzees never normally eat it. The ill chimpanzees recovered the following day, as Vernonia Amygdalina contains many substances which are effective against parasites.

In North America, when bears come out of hibernation after winter, they look for osha roots and eat them, or rub them through their fur, which protects them from parasites and also treats bites.

Many bird species ward off parasites ingeniously with the help of another animal – ants. More than 200 species of birds, including many songbirds, crows, pheasants and turkeys, have been observed performing “anting,” in which they lie down on anthills, with their wings and tail feathers spread out, and let hundreds of ants pass through their plumage.

Pregnant female lemurs in Madagascar eat more tannin-rich leaves of the fihamy and kily plants in the weeks before they give birth. A small dose of tannin can boost immunity, prevent miscarriage and stimulate milk production.

Some animals use herbs to clean up their home surroundings and thus prevent diseases. Dusty-footed woodrats nibble Californian bay laurel leaves, releasing substances which can dispel flea larvae and other parasites.

In one study, scientists observed that when the hive was infected with a poisonous fungus, honey bees prioritized the production of propolis over their other usual activities like honeycomb construction and pollen collection, and painted it on the interior hive walls, where it worked as a natural antibiotic.

Geophagia, or eating soil, is another popular preventive therapy in the animal kingdom. Sodium is an essential mineral for all animals’ healthy nerve function and muscle strength, but it’s very scarce in these parrots’ diet. Therefore, the parrots eat clay as their sodium supplement, and do so more frequently during their breeding season when their nutritional demand is at its highest.

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