World’s heaviest flying bird uses plants to heal itself, scientists say

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Taking medicine if you’re feeling unwell is old news for humans, but new research shows the world’s heaviest bird that can fly could be the latest animal to use plants as medicine.

Researchers from Madrid in Spain studied data from 619 droppings belonging to great bustards and found that the two species of plants that were consumed more than other foods in their diet had “antiparasitic effects”.

“We show here that great bustards prefer to eat plants containing chemical compounds with antiparasitic effects,” said Luis M. Bautista-Sopelana, a scientist at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid and lead author, on Wednesday.

Found in parts of Europe, Africa and Asia, great bustards are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, with around 70% of the world’s population living in the Iberian Peninsula, according to the statement.

Published Wednesday in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the study reveals that the great bustards fed abundantly on poppies (Papaver rhoeas) and purple bugloss (Echium plantagineum). In humans, corn poppies have been used for their medicinal properties as a sedative and analgesic, while purple bugloss can be toxic if consumed.

Through analysis of plant extracts, researchers found that both have antiparasitic properties, which they tested against three common parasites in birds: the protozoan Trichomonas gallinae, the nematode Meloidogyne javanica and the fungus Aspergillus niger.

According to the study, both plants were very effective in killing or inhibiting the effects of protozoa and nematodes. The purple pit viper showed moderate defensive action against fungi.

The researchers noted that these plants were eaten particularly during the mating season, which they believe would negate the effects of increased exposure to parasites during this time.

Great bustards are known as lek herders, meaning males congregate at selected sites to present displays to visiting females, who then choose a mate based on the show, the press release said.

“Theoretically, both sexes of great bustards could benefit from foraging for medicinal plants during the mating season when sexually transmitted diseases are common – while males using plants with disease-active compounds could appear healthier. , vigorous and attractive to females,” Azucena Gonzalez-Coloma, a researcher at Madrid’s Institute of Agricultural Sciences and co-author of the study, said in the statement.

Paul Rose, a zoologist and lecturer in animal behavior at the University of Exeter in England, said the results show that great bustards are able to determine what is good for them at a certain time and change their behavior foraging accordingly. He did not participate in the study.

“We normally associate self-medication with species like primates, so seeing researchers studying endangered birds is awesome,” Rose told CNN.

Chimpanzees have been seen scavenging insects and applying them to their own wounds, as well as the wounds of others, possibly in the form of medicine, while dolphins rub against certain types of coral to protect their skin infections.

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