Bumblebees found using nicotine to self-medicate
This is the first documented case of insects seeking out substances specifically for healing properties.


Many animals are known to seek out plants and other non-food substances for medicinal reasons. Parrots, for instance, have been documented eating clay to absorb toxins in their gut. Brown bears have been witnessed making a paste of osha roots and saliva, which repels insects when rubbed in their fur. Dogs often eat grass, which helps makes them vomit when they have an upset stomach.

But all of these examples involve vertebrates. Evidence of medicinal plants use by invertebrates remains scant, which is why researchers were surprised to recently find evidence that bumblebees infected by parasites seem to seek out flowers with nicotine in the nectar, reports Science Daily.

This behavior is particularly fascinating because while nicotine can slow the progression of disease in bumblebees infected with certain parasites, it can nevertheless be harmful to healthy bumblebees. So clearly the bees would not seek it out except as an emergency medicine, similar to how human doctors use chemotherapy to treat cancer.

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