Dogs, cats, parrots, butterflies, and chimpanzees are among the many animals that practice zoopharmacognosy (animal self-medication). These animals are self-medicating with substances that appear to be beneficial to the animal, despite the lack of nutritional value.
For instance, you have most likely witnessed your dog consuming grass. This is not because your pet has decided to give up meat; rather, eating grass can help alleviate stomach issues by either causing vomiting or promoting regular bowel movements.
Other animals, such as parrots, consume clay to rid their stomachs of potentially harmful substances. One of the reasons cats are so fond of catnip is because of its effectiveness as an insecticide.
After a recent study, a new animal medicine case has been added to the list. It also suggests animals can empathize with one another and help one another.
This new study, which was recently published in the journal Current Biology, is noteworthy because it is the first time an individual animal has been observed applying insects to its body as a form of self-medication.
According to the study’s findings, chimpanzees with open wounds will apply an insect to themselves in a specific pattern that appears to have little room for variation across the population that was observed. After the insect has been captured, it is immobilized by squeezing it between the lips, and then at least once, it is rubbed on the wound before it is thrown away.
Chimpanzees have been observed using insects to treat the wounds of other chimpanzees in a few instances. For example, a mature female chimpanzee managed to snag an insect and then apply it to the wound of her juvenile son.
In the video, you can see her applying the insect to the cut three or more times for preventive purposes. One of the other cases reported in the study involved two adults who were not related to one another, where one of the adults applied the insect to the other.
The type of insect and the effectiveness of the treatments used by the chimpanzees are unknown to the researchers. Although the findings add one more example to the ever-growing list of prosocial behaviors observed in our closest evolutionary ancestors.
Researchers say that many of the things chimps do, like being aggressive as a group, hunting and patrolling their territory, and seem to have a desire to work together, which requires being able to act in a truly helpful way. Just because the chimps engage in such behaviors, it is hard to be certain about whether or not the chimps also practice compassion because they do these things.
Chimpanzees, being highly social animals, would benefit from demonstrating at least some capacity for empathy. Chimpanzees engage in various behaviors, such as social grooming, to strengthen their social ties and enable them to cohabit effectively. It’s possible that using insects to treat wounds serves a similar function as the other methods.
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