Many animal species have created their own pharmacies from ingredients that commonly occur in nature. Birds, bees, lizards, elephants, and chimpanzees all share a survival trait: They self-medicate. These animals eat things that make them feel better, or prevent disease, or kill parasites like flatworms, bacteria, and viruses, or just to aid in digestion. Even creatures with brains the size of pinheads somehow know to ingest certain plants or use them in unusual ways when they need them. Anyone who has seen a dog eat grass during a walk has witnessed self-medication. The dog probably has an upset stomach or a parasite. The grass helps them vomit up the problem or eliminate it with the feces. The science of animal self-medication is called zoopharmacognosy, derived from the roots zoo (“animal”), pharma (“drug”), and gnosy (“knowing”). It’s not clear how much knowing or learning is involved, but many animals seem to have evolved an innate ability to detect the therapeutic constituents in plants. Although the evidence is entirely circumstantial, the examples are plentiful. The practice is spreading across the animal kingdom in sometimes surprising ways.
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