The growing buzz on animal self-medication

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | April 17, 2013

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In addition to gathering pollen, honeybees collect plant saps to create a resinous material that reduces bacteria and parasite loads in hives. Photo by Louise Docker/Wikipedia.

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even forest-dwelling ants do it. Increasing evidence suggests that a wide range of animals self-medicate.

"We need to pay close attention to how animals may use plants or other materials as medicine, because it has direct implications for human health and food production," says Emory biologist Jaap de Roode.

De Roode wrote a review of recent studies on self-medication in animals for the current issue of the journal Science. De Roode and his co-authors, Thierry Lefèvre and Mark Hunter, recently published their own study showing that monarch butterflies use toxins found in milkweed to cure themselves and their offspring of disease.

De Roode will also be giving a talk on animal self-medication on Saturday, April 20, as one of 11 speakers set for TEDxEmory.

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