The capacity of many animals to get high recreationally or as self-medication has been studied for years. In the first case, for example, it has been seen kangaroos running erratically through the poppy fields, from which, among other drugs, heroin is extracted. The possibility that some elephants take fermented fruits to get something similar to a binge. And, in the second case, we find the dolphins, which rub against specific species of coral to combat certain skin infections. Now, in addition, we know that the bustardthe heaviest flying bird in existence, could also self-medicate with compounds characteristic of traditional human medicine.
This is the conclusion of a study that has just been published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, by CSIC scientists. In their research, they have not only analyzed the plants that bustards eatbut they have also studied the circumstances in which they self-medicate.
This is going far beyond most studies on animal self-medication that have been carried out. In fact, normally it cannot be assured or affirmed with some forcefulness that they are self-medicating. In this case, it cannot be guaranteed either, but there are many more certainties, since an intentionality is indicated in the consumption of these substances.
Why do bustards self-medicate?
Bustards breed in what is known as leks. These are areas where the males congregate and gather the females to put on their mating show.
Once this phase passes, the females they return to the place where they were born They spend their entire lives in that area. Nevertheless, the males return every year to repeat their performance in the same lek.
They spend a lot of time together in a not too large space area. That’s why, feces accumulate And the sanitation leaves a lot to be desired. Just at the moment when the most brand new should be seen. The ideal would be to be able to take medication, to prevent parasitic infections that leave them without energy or affect their appearance. And this is where the self-medication of the bustards seems to come into play.
Plants known to humans
The authors of this study have spent decades collecting faeces of bustards in Castile-Leon and Murcia. In total they were obtained 623 samples, which were observed under a microscope, in search of recognizable plant remains. They saw all kinds of plant species, known to be part of the diet of the bustards. However, there were two in particular that caught his attention: the corn poppy (papaver rhoeas) and the purple viper bugloss (Echium plantaginum).
What was striking is that the remains of this plant were found mostly in the excrement of males, and especially in those collected during the mating season, in the months of breeding. March and April.
The corn poppy is used in traditional medicine as pain reliever, sedative and immune system booster. As for the purple viper bugloss, although it is toxic in humans in high amounts, it has also been studied in traditional medicine for the treatment of boils and ingrown nails. Also, they both have interesting nutritional content.
All this led these scientists to hypothesize that the bustards were self-medicating with these plants. Therefore, they took extracts from each of them and analyzed their composition. They found many alkaloids, used by the plants themselves to protect yourself from herbivorous animals. And might not that indicate that they are useful as antiparasitics?
To find out if that was the case, they put these extracts in contact with three parasites known to affect bustards: the protozoan trichomonas gallinaethe nematode (parasitic worm) Meloidogyne javanica and the fungus Aspergillus niger. Thus, they saw that they were right, since both plants were effective against the protozoan and the nematode and, in addition, the blugoss gave very good results against the fungus.
With all these results, it does not seem coincidental that male bustards base part of their diet on these plants in the mating season. It’s your way of preventing disease at a time when your good health is essential. Since wild birds don’t have access to modern medicine, we’ll forgive them for self-medicating with plants. In the case of humans that is another story.