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Taking drugs when you’re feeling down is old news for humans, but new research shows that the world’s heaviest bird that can fly could be the latest animal to use plants as a form of medication.
Researchers from Madrid in Spain studied data on 619 feces belonging to great bustards and found that the two types of plants eaten more than other foods in their diet had “anti-parasitic effects”.
“Here we show that great bustards favor plants with chemical compounds with antiparasitic effects,” Luis M. Bautista-Sopelana, a scientist at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid and lead author, said in a news release Wednesday.
Found in parts of Europe, Africa and Asia, great bustards are listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, with about 70% of the world’s population living on it, according to the release. Iberian Peninsula lives.
The study, published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution on Wednesday, reveals that the great bustards ate an abundance of poppies (Papaver rhoeas) and purple adder’s bugloss (Echium plantagineum). In humans, poppies have been used for their medicinal properties as a sedative and pain reliever, while the purple viper’s bugloss can be poisonous if consumed.
By analyzing the plant extracts, researchers discovered that both have antiparasitic properties, which they tested against three common parasites in birds: the protozoan Trichomonas gallinae, the nematode Meloidogyne javanica and the fungus Aspergillus niger.
According to the study, both plants were highly effective in killing or inhibiting the effects of the protozoa and nematodes. The purple viper bugloss showed moderate defensive action against the fungi.
The researchers noted that these plants were mainly consumed during the mating season, which they said counteracted the effects of increased parasite exposure during that time.
Those are big stairs known as lek breeders, meaning males gather at chosen locations to put on displays for the visiting females, who then choose a mate based on the show, the press release said.
“In theory, both sexes of great bustards could benefit from seeking medicinal plants in the mating season, when sexually transmitted diseases are common – while males using plants with compounds active against disease may appear healthier, more potent and more attractive to females.” Azucena Gonzalez-Coloma, a researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences in Madrid and co-author of the study, said in the release.
Paul Rose, a zoologist and lecturer in animal behavior at the University of Exeter in England, said the findings show that great bustards are able to determine what’s good for them at a given time and adjust their foraging behavior accordingly. He was not involved in the investigation.
“Normally we associate self-medication in species like primates, so to see researchers studying endangered birds is great,” Rose told CNN.
Chimpanzees have been seen catching insects and applying them to their own wounds, as well as the wounds of others, possibly as a form of medication, while dolphins rub against certain types of corals to protect their skin from infection.