Bustards self-medicate with traditional medicine

(ORDO NEWS) — Bustards are remarkable birds, but now, in addition to their rarity, size and spectacular mating behavior, the ability to self-heal has been added.

At the same time, birds treat the issue of maintaining health on a grand scale: in the two types of plants they actively eat, scientists have found antiprotozoal, anthelmintic and antifungal substances.

Scientists still know relatively little about what sources of medicine wild animals use to self-medicate. Classical veterinary trials for example, comparing the dose of a drug with its effects are not possible in field trials for obvious reasons.

However, from time to time it is reported that a variety of animals, from reindeer and parrots to bears and monkeys, eat food that obviously does not taste good, but helps to improve well-being.

For example, constipated chimpanzees eat the leaves of a poisonous plant that they would normally avoid, and honey bees use the resin of conifers to reduce the risk of fungal contamination of the hive.

This time, an international team of researchers from Spain and France managed to detect signs of self-healing in bustards ( Otis tarda ), large steppe birds listed in the IUCN Red Book.

Especially vulnerable to parasites are males, whose immunity decreases during the current due to increased stress, while females find healthy, energetic and moderately well-fed partners attractive.

The scientists collected and studied 623 litter samples from bustards of both sexes, of which 178 samples were obtained in April, when the mating season begins for the bustards.

Having studied the composition of the litter under a microscope, scientists have identified in it the remains of 90 species of plants that the birds fed on.

They were especially interested in two species that came across much more often than one would expect from their abundance: wild poppy and plantain bruise.

It was these herbs that bustards most often ate in April, and there were more of them in the litter of males than in the litter of females.

It is significant that domestic cows avoid poppy thickets, and in folk medicine it is used as an analgesic, sedative and immunostimulant.

The bruise is generally poisonous to both cows and humans, but laboratory experiments have shown that both types of plants effectively cope with pathogenic protozoa, parasitic worms and fungi, which most often affect birds.

Bustards self medicate with traditional medicine 2
A bruise can save a sick bird from fungal aspergillosis

Scientists urge to take the results with caution: although plant extracts demonstrate a therapeutic effect in laboratory conditions, additional experiments with live birds are required.

So far, researchers continue to observe birds and are ready to find both evidence and refutation of their hypothesis of self-healing in bustards.


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