Neuroscience & Mind
These Animals Know How to Self-Medicate
It turns out that many animals know how to alleviate some of their common health problems and we are only beginning to (officially) learn about it. Dolphins, for example:
Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins get skin conditions, too, but they come about their medication by queuing up nose-to-tail to rub themselves against corals. In the journal iScience on May 19, researchers show that these corals have medicinal properties, suggesting that the dolphins are using the marine invertebrates to medicate skin conditions.
Thirteen years ago, co-lead author Angela Ziltener (@DWAORG), a wildlife biologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, first observed dolphins rubbing against coral in the Northern Red Sea, off the coast of Egypt. She and her team noticed that the dolphins were selective about which corals they rubbed against, and they wanted to understand why. “I hadn’t seen this coral rubbing behavior described before, and it was clear that the dolphins knew exactly which coral they wanted to use,” says Ziltener. “I thought, ‘There must be a reason.’”CELL PRESS, “WATCH DOLPHINS LINE UP TO SELF-MEDICATE SKIN AILMENTS AT CORAL ‘CLINICS’” AT EUREKALERT (MAY 19, 2022) THE PAPER IS OPEN ACCESS.
There was indeed a reason: The dolphins were stirring up the coral polyps which then released mucus which may help the dolphins with skin health and with treating infections: “It’s almost like they are showering, cleaning themselves before they go to sleep or get up for the day,” says study researcher Angela Ziltener, who dived down to where the dolphins hang out to find out what was going on.
Natural Healing, the Chimp Way
In one of many other such observations, a chimp mother was recently seen using an insect to ease a bite wound on her offspring:
For the first time, researchers observed chimpanzees in Gabon, West Africa applying insects to their wounds and the wounds of others…
“In the video, you can see that Suzee is first looking at the foot of her son, and then it’s as if she is thinking, ‘What could I do?’ and then she looks up, sees the insect, and catches it for her son,’” Mascaro says. The Ozouga team started to monitor the chimpanzees for this type of wound-tending behavior, and over the next 15 months documented 76 cases of the group applying insects to wounds on themselves and others.CELL PRESS, “CHIMPANZEE MOTHER SEEN APPLYING AN INSECT TO A WOUND ON HER SON” AT SCIENCEDAILY (FEBRUARY 7, 2022).
Just what the insect does for the chimp’s wound is unclear but cognitive biologist Simone Pika notes, “There have been studies showing that insects can have antibiotic, antiviral, and anthelmintic functions.” That may be but perhaps the main outcome will turn out to be pain/itch relief.
Learning from Elephants
Elephants have been observed to use plants for medicinal purposes too. Researchers interviewed mahouts (work elephant riders) as to what the elephants did on their own that they had adopted as part of a care routine:
114 species [of plants] were recorded as being consumed by elephants during interviews with mahouts and forest outings with them to collect samples. Twenty species were identified as used by elephants in particular pathological conditions or physiological states. According to interviewed mahouts, the consumption of certain plants improves the health of the elephant. We observed clear convergences between the observations interpreted by the mahouts as self-medication behaviour from elephants and their own medicinal practices (for human and veterinary purposes).DUBOST JM, LAMXAY V, KRIEF S, FALSHAW M, MANITHIP C, DEHARO E. FROM PLANT SELECTION BY ELEPHANTS TO HUMAN AND VETERINARY PHARMACOPEIA OF MAHOUTS IN LAOS. J ETHNOPHARMACOL. 2019 NOV 15.
Similarly, dogs self-medicate:
Anyone who has seen a dog eat grass during a walk has witnessed self-medication. The dog probably has an upset stomach or a parasite. The grass helps them vomit up the problem or eliminate it with the feces.JOEL SHURKIN, “ANIMALS THAT SELF-MEDICATE” AT PROC NATL ACAD SCI U S A. 2014 DEC 9; 111(49): 17339–17341.
So do cats, likely for the same reasons.
Read the rest at Mind Matters News, published by Discovery Institute’s Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.