Zoopharmacognosy is a word you don’t see every day. It’s actually a combination of three Greek words which mean “animal” (zoo), “drug” (pharma), and “knowing” (gnosy). It refers to animals using plants, soils, insects, or drugs to solve specific medical problems. It is animals (not humans) medicating themselves. Mammals, birds, and even insects use zoopharmacognosy to cure medical problems, and sometimes to prevent them. Here are a few examples.
It is fairly common to see a sick dog or cat eating grass to induce vomiting.
Sick chimpanzees swallow bitter leaves of Aspilia, a plant that contains an anti-parasitic chemical. The leaves are covered with bristles and bitter tasting so the chimps roll up the leaves and swallow them whole like we might take a pill.
Others chimps and bonobos with diarrhea will split open the stem of an Aframomum plant and suck the bitter juice. The juice contains chemicals which kill parasites which cause diarrhea.
Spider monkeys in Brazil have been seen eating seed pods from a tree known as monkey ear or elephant ear (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) during mating season. The fruit contains progesterone which promotes female fertility.
Brown bears make a paste from the chewed roots of osha (Ligusticum porteri) mixed with saliva and rub it into their fur to repel insects and soothe the bites. The plant contains coumarins which repel fleas and ticks.
To get rid of lice, many songbirds with put ants on their feathers or even roll in an anthill. The ants secrete formic acid, which kills feather lice.
Ants infected with Beauveria bassiana, a soil fungus, will eat harmful substances that are antifungal.
Many kinds of animals will eat dirt to absorb toxins, to combat parasites, or as an antacid. Sometimes they eat dirt to supplement minerals that are missing in their diet.
Pregnant elephants will chew the leaves of a specific tree in the Boraginaceae family to induce labor. Kenyan women make tea from those leaves to help with childbirth. In many cases, people have learned medicines and tonics from animals.
There are many more examples of zoopharmacognosy in which animals act as their own doctors. How did animals get this knowledge? It seems to be instinctive, not learned. Perhaps this instinct was put within the genetic code of these animals by their Creator.
— Roland Earnst © 2019