“Animals that Self-Medicate”


Humans aren’t the only species to seek out and consume substances that they normally wouldn’t eat, just to make themselves feel better, according to a news feature in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Many animal species have created their own pharmacies from ingredients that commonly occur in nature,” writes Joel Shurkin.

“Birds, bees, lizards, elephants, and chimpanzees all share a survival trait: They self-medicate. These animals eat things that make them feel better, or prevent disease, or kill parasites like flatworms, bacteria, and viruses, or just to aid in digestion. Even creatures with brains the size of pinheads somehow know to ingest certain plants or use them in unusual ways when they need them,” reports Shurkin. “It’s not clear how much knowing or learning is involved, but many animals seem to have evolved an innate ability to detect the therapeutic constituents in plants. Although the evidence is entirely circumstantial, the examples are plentiful.”

(Full text) News Feature: Animals that self-medicate (Shurkin, Joel. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. December 9, 2014. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1419966111)