What happens when animals get sick in the wild — do they just fight off disease by themselves? It seems they may actively treat themselves, and their sick offspring, with natural therapies. If that sounds like a far-fetched idea, listen up. Although few studies have been conducted on self-medication by animals, researchers from Emory University in Atlanta theorize the practice may be far more widespread than humans have realized. In fact, they’ve just discovered that monarch butterflies use medicinal plants to treat their offspring for disease.

“We have shown that some species of milkweed, the larva’s food plants, can reduce parasite infection in the monarchs,” Jaap de Roode, the evolutionary biologist who led the study just published in the journal Ecology Letters, said in a statement to the media. “And we have also found that infected female butterflies prefer to lay their eggs on plants that will make their offspring less sick, suggesting that monarchs have evolved the ability to medicate their offspring. We believe that our experiments provide the best evidence to date that animals use medication.”

Monarch butterflies use medicinal plants to treat diseases in their offspring, 10/21/10

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