Op-Ed: Animals smarter than Big Pharma? Self-medicating animals prove it

Posted Apr 14, 2013 by Paul Wallis
If your humor is black enough, you’ll appreciate the new findings about animal self-medication. Insects, birds and other animals have been found to not only medicate themselves, but provide environmental medication for their young.
A monarch butterfly caterpillar gets ready to devour a milkweed leaf. Before feeding  the caterpilla...
A monarch butterfly caterpillar gets ready to devour a milkweed leaf. Before feeding, the caterpillar disarms the plant's natural defense system by cutting the milkweed's veins that deliver a toxic and sticky latex.
Anurag Agrawal
Will Big Pharma be put out of business by a caterpillar? Could be.
Science Daily:
The fact that moths, ants and fruit flies are now known to self-medicate has profound implications for the ecology and evolution of animal hosts and their parasites, according to Mark Hunter, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.
… "When we watch animals foraging for food in nature, we now have to ask, are they visiting the grocery store or are they visiting the pharmacy?"
The very practical elements in these findings indicate that the animals don’t mess about with their pharmaceuticals. There are indications that they devote considerable effort and energy to their hygiene.
One recent study has suggested that house sparrows and finches add high-nicotine cigarette butts to their nests to reduce mite infestations.
… Wood ants incorporate an antimicrobial resin from conifer trees into their nests, preventing microbial growth in the colony. Parasite-infected monarch butterflies protect their offspring against high levels of parasite growth by laying their eggs on anti-parasitic milkweed.
To clarify the degree of emphasis on hygiene- The use of these materials, which have to be either gathered or accessed at risk from predators is apparently universal. Each species has found some useful herb or material for specific uses.
The fact that finches collect cigarette butts can’t be ascribed to mere instinct. Why put a cigarette butt in your nest to start with? Animal senses are very efficient, and the smell of a compound similar to a natural remedy may be the key. (The fact that humans, who’ve known for years that nicotine is a good pest control, aren’t a bit more flexible in their use of the chemical is a bit of an indictment, too. What if you used odourless nicotine in insect repellents, for example?)
Now a real killer-
"Perhaps the biggest surprise for us was that animals like fruit flies and butterflies can choose food for their offspring that minimizes the impacts of disease in the next generation," Hunter said. "There are strong parallels with the emerging field of epigenetics in humans, where we now understand that dietary choices made by parents influence the long-term health of their children."
So butterflies and fruit flies, with very short lifespans, can have a functional health policy for future generations, but humans can’t? Hard to see any more effective critique for health standards and the distribution of materials for health, isn’t it?
Hunter’s team has done a lot more than simply research a fascinating aspect of animal health. They’ve found and positively identified a completely new perspective on environmental health.
There’s an interesting parallel here- Many animals use toxins in the natural environment to ward off and even kill dangerous predators. This study shows a clearly related paradigm, use of passive and active defences against disease and health risks. It does make sense as a survival mechanism on so many levels.
The study of ethnomedicine, the traditional medicines of human cultures, has also drawn a parallel between animal medication and the development of ethnomedicines. That’s not entirely surprising. The ancient cultures were highly observant of animal behaviours. Australian aboriginal culture is literally a pharmacopeia in many ways. Native American culture includes many references to animal behaviour and high levels of observation. Connections were obviously made.
So Big Pharma and political health policies can’t manage human health at all, but animals can manage their health so easily?
Just a thought- The overriding impression of animal medication is of high efficiency, using easily accessible materials which do work. The impression of human medication is somewhat different, to say the least. Go to the ant and apparently every other species on the planet, thou intellectually deficient sluggards. Just do what they do. It’s a lot safer than what you’re doing.
Note: The mere fact that the average fruit fly has a more hygienic and better managed environment than the entire United States should not be construed as a mere criticism of the policies and methods of Big Pharma. It’s gone way beyond criticism.