[monkeywire] Primates found popping prenatal drug
joshg1973 at yahoo.com
Tue Jan 28 23:02:48 EST 2003
Primates found popping prenatal drug
by James Randerson
A Madagascan lemur has been revealed as the first animal known to
self-medicate when pregnant. Female sifaka eat plants rich in poisonous
tannins in the weeks before giving birth, researchers have discovered.
It is unclear why the sifaka does this. In other mammals, small doses
of tannins kill parasites and stimulate milk production. And vets often
use tannins to prevent miscarriage, raising the intriguing possibility
that by eating the plants the sifaka is protecting its developing baby.
At first sight, a taste for tannins might seem odd whether you are
pregnant or not. Plants use them as defensive chemicals to deter
herbivores from munching their leaves, as the toxic tannins bind to
proteins in the animals' guts.
"The sifakas are doing something that goes against the grain," says
Michael Huffman, an expert in primate self-medication at Kyoto
University in Japan and a member of the team. "But this probably means
they have a good reason for doing it."
Fihamy and kily
His team studied Verreaux's sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi) in Kirindy
Forest, western Madagascar. Pregnant females ate more of the
tannin-rich plants, called fihamy and kily, than other females or
males, the authors will report in a future issue of the journal
Primates. They also found that the sifakas that ate the plants had
fewer failed pregnancies than a group of sifakas that did not.
Huffman accepts that he cannot be sure this is down to the tannins, as
the sifakas that eat them might simply live in a less stressful
habitat. Also, the researchers admit that the animals could be after
other useful compounds in the plants.
Numerous primates, including chimps, baboons, black lemurs and
capuchins, dip into the jungle pharmacy to combat parasites.
Some 39 species have been observed eating soil, which soaks up toxins
in the gut and allows the animals to eat poisonous plants without
getting sick. Another trick used by chimps is to swallow bristly leaves
whole, which irritate their stomachs and induce diarrhoea, flushing out
tapeworms and other gut parasites.
19:00 22 January 03
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