Scientists have observed that Houbara bustards, known for their huge masses, select plants that kill parasites and disease-causing fungi when needed. This is a rare example of this behavior in birds.
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common bustard Follow Favoritealso called Big bust, it’s hard not to notice: it’s huge and colorful. here they are Heavier flying birds – indicate researchers from the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid. Their males perform spectacular displays to attract females. According to the latest observations, this species has another noteworthy feature – Actively looking for two medicinal plants. This may mean a rare case of herbal self-medication among birds.
“We have shown that Houbara bustards select plants containing substances that show antiparasitic activity in laboratory tests,” says Dr. Luis Bautista Sobelana, first author of the paper published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
The great bustard hunts two species that are also used by humans in traditional medicine. We have shown that both contain substances that destroy protozoa and worms, and that one of these plants contains antifungal compounds,” adds Dr Azucena González Coloma, co-author of the paper.
Scientists report that large bustards forage in the grassy regions of western Europe and northwestern Africa. About 70 percent of the world’s population lives in the Iberian Peninsula. Females usually stay in one area, while males move around, returning to the same lek each year. Birds, living in the same place, come into contact with their feces, which increases the risk of contracting various infections (which is also favored by mating). At the same time, during mating, the male’s immune system is clearly weakened – and this is associated with a really great effort aimed at attracting females.
Theoretically, large bustards of both sexes could benefit from foraging on medicinal plants during mating season, as mating season is when sexually transmitted diseases are most common. Males who use these plants may appear healthier, stronger, and more attractive to femalesexplains Dr. Gonzalez Coloma.
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The researchers, some of whom have monitored the great houbara since the early 1980s, analyzed more than 600 samples of their droppings, about 180 of them from the breeding season. They noticed that two types of medicinal plants – the field poppy and the viper cupid – were eaten more often than would be expected from a normal feeding. They are often particularly selected during the mating season, which overloads the body. Most of them are eaten by males.
Cases of self-healing with plants have already been suspected in various animals, including primates, bears, deer, elk, parrots, bees, and fruit flies. Now, scientists say the great houbara is another candidate for self-healing organisms — including the main one when it comes to birds.
However, they state that more research, including biochemical, veterinary, and pharmacological experiments, is needed to confirm this thesis.
Until then, we will continue our field work. We intend, for example, to analyze remnants of poppy plants in fields and viper plants in houbara droppings from different populations, and investigate the presence of pathogens. Such a method might contradict our hypothesis about self-healing of this species,” says Dr. Bautista Sobelana.
Critically endangered, the great houbara is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
# Natural decline
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