World’s heaviest flying birds consume medicinal plants to prevent sickness

The findings revealed that two species—corn poppies, Papaver rhoeas, and purple viper’s bugloss, Echium plantagineum—are consumed by great bustards more frequently. 

“Great bustards select corn poppies and purple viper’s bugloss mainly in the mating season, in April when their energy expenditure is greatest,” said Bautista-Sopelana.

“And males, who during these months spend much of their time and energy budgets on sexual display, prefer them more than females.”

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Otis tarda, great bustards in the forest.

With varying degrees of certainty, self-medication in animals is hypothesized to occur in a wide range of species, including primates, bears, deer, elk, macaws, honeybees, and fruit flies. 

However, it can be challenging to establish in wild animals without a shadow of a doubt.

“We can’t compare between control and experimental treatments. And double-blind trials or dose-effect studies, obligatory steps in human or veterinary medicine, are obviously impossible in wild animals,” cautioned Bautista-Sopelana.  

The first of two species of plants consumed by bustards is avoided by cattle and is employed as a painkiller, sedative, and immunological stimulant in conventional medicine.

The second is poisonous to both people and livestock if consumed in large quantities. Additionally, they are nutritious: maize poppy seeds are a rich source of fatty acids, while purple viper’s bugloss seeds are a great source of edible oils.

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