Previous: Dark Matter
Next: Sugar, Worms, and Space



View count:1,077,256
Last sync:2023-10-26 00:30
Turns out humans aren't the only animals that can medicate themselves - many other animals have found ways to deal with illness by using natural remedies. Hank will tell you about some of the most interesting methods animals have found to heal themselves, and maybe get a little crazy in the process.

This is the beginning of Season 2 of SciShow, and our 200th episode! We hope you like the new design elements! Special thanks go to Peter Winkler for all his awesome work on those.

Like SciShow?
Follow SciShow!
T*mbl SciShow.

References for this episode can be found in the Google document here:
If you've got a headache you've got a stash of ibuprofen or whatever to help put you to rights, right? But if you're an animal, They can't just popped down to the nearest Walgreens when they've got a tummy ache, so how do they cure what ails them? Well it turns out some animals have figured out how to self medicate using some pretty weird stuff.

(Intro plays)

Anting. Birds have trouble with parasites, I mean who doesn't? But for birds its really important to stay clean because if you've got a bunch of mites gnawing on your feathers you're not going to be able to do all your fun bird stuff, like flying around. So a lot of them, around 250 species, do this thing called anting. They hunker down on top of an ant hill and let hundreds of ants swarm all over them. Sounds like fun, right? Well the ants secrete chemicals, like formic acid, which is the stuff that makes ant bites sting but it also helps keep mites away and other pests and is even thought to soothe bird's skin that's been irritated by molting. Apparently it even feels so good that sometimes birds will scoop up huge beak fulls of ants and squash them, rubbing the ant mush all over themselves. Corvids, which include magpies, jays, and crows, seem to be especially fond of this. And while the occasional anting can be a helpful and invigorating activity some birds get into it, like really into it. Some scientists believe that birds can become anting addicts. Just like other kinds of self medication, some birds carry their anting to the point where its actually hurting other aspects of their lives and they're basically just sitting in an ant pile all day. Its pitiful really.

Our second example, passing the millipede. Non human primates have a knack for finding medicine in the wild, and much like an anting bird, Capuchin monkeys in South American have discovered the healing powers of poisonous millipedes. Capuchins hunt down a particular species of millipede, called  O. dorsovittatus, so they can rub it all over their bodies. They do this because these millipedes are full of Benzoquinones, an insecticide many times more toxic than any deep woods bug repellent you've ever used. Not only does Benzoquinones protect the monkeys during the crazy annual mosquito season they also repel bot flies which can lay eggs under a monkeys skin, forming a dangerous festering cyst that'll eventually explode and maggots will erupt from it. But the problem with this whole scenario is that the Capuchins have to get the millipede mad before it will release its insecticidal toxins. So the monkeys bite the millipedes, which tastes terrible and are obviously really poisonous, and then rub the angry bugs all over themselves. So a bunch of Capuchin will like sit in a circle passing a single millipede around, taking it and biting it and then rubbing it on themselves. Its kind of sweet actually. 

Our third and final example, jaguars eating vines. You know how a cat might eat some grass when its tummy is upset and barf and feel better. Well in the amazonian Rain Forest jaguars do the same kind of thing just a little more intense. Jaguars have been known to eat yagé, a common vine in the amazon that's used by native people to mostly in religious ceremonies in a drink called ayahuasca. So yagé turns out contains compounds called Beta Carboline Alkaloids which make people barf and have diarrhea like crazy. Native people actually refer to ayahuasca as la purga or "the purge" but the chemicals that cause this purging also causes intense hallucinations by blocking your brains ability to reabsorb serotonin. Now nobody knows whether yagé has the same psycho active affect of jaguars because it turns out its pretty difficult to study the brain chemistry of a jaguar that's tripping out on drugs, but it certainly purges their system of parasites. Which I'm sure is totally worth it.

Thank you for self medicating yourself with this episode of SciShow. If you want to keep getting smarter with us you can go to and subscribe.

(End screen plays)