Wild Animals Take Drugs, Too

Wild Animals Take Drugs, Too

A walk down the aisle at the local drugstore will reveal that the variety of drugs humans can ingest is nearly endless.  And those are the packaged, legal varieties.  Yet researchers have discovered that self-medicating appears to be the rule, rather than the exception, in the animal kingdom.

Investigators have observed myriad creatures taking drugs to prevent or cure infections.  These range not just within the world of primates, who can pass on knowledge between generations, but among insects as well.  The most recent addition to drug takers is the fruit fly, which use the alcohol from nearby fruit to protect themselves from wasps.

Emory researcher Todd Schlenke noted that “In the [fruit] flies, increased blood-alcohol content causes the wasp maggot parasites living in their blood to die in a particularly gruesome way, by having their internal organs evert outside their bodies through their anuses.”  Schlenke, who was not involved in the most recent research published online in the journal Science, also observed that using alcohol in this way can also prevent infection.

Ants, who share a number of other highly adaptive traits with humans, have also been observed to use substances for medication.  They will bring back antifungal chemicals to the colony to benefit the group.

Bees are also known to collect medicines with antifungal and antimicrobial properties and, like ants, return to the hive to help others stave off infection. Since this antifungal resin is sticky and hard to work with, beekeepers have systematically selected against this trait, and scientists believe such de-selection has caused bees to become more prone to infection.

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