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Wild Medicine

Chimp eating a fruit in Gombe National Park
Some animals have learned how to use plants to heal themselves.

Scientist have documented several cases where animals have learned to, or instinctively know which plants to eat for health benefits. Chimpanzees are known to eat mjonso, a bitter bush which humans use to treat malarial fevers, stomach aches, and gut infections. Sheep eat plants which are rich
Sheep graze on sagebrush
in tannins that discourage parasites. Sparrows in Mexico have learned to use the fiber from cigarette filters in their nests. The nicotine in the butts
repels bird parasites such as mites and lice.

These examples raise an interesting question of where these behaviors come from. Do animals randomly eat the plants and then discover that they feel better after? Do they pass the knowledge along to others? Does instinct make certain beneficial substance just taste better?

Read the complete Science News for Students Article
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