Skip to comments.Self Medicating Sheep Shake Off 'Stupid' Label
Posted on 05/01/2006 6:46:27 PM PDT by blam
Self-medicating sheep shake off the 'stupid' label
10:00 01 May 2006
From New Scientist
CAN sick sheep write their own prescriptions? Almost, since it seems that sheep can select the correct medicine to treat a specific ailment.
In anecdotal reports, primates have been observed engaging in self-medication by selecting a specific plant when something has made them ill. Now biologists at Utah State University, Logan, have run experiments that show sheep choosing the right drug to cure an illness.
Juan Villalba and colleagues gave lambs food and mild poisons - either grains, tannins or oxalic acid - that made them unwell. The lambs were then given something to eat that would alleviate their symptoms: either sodium bentonite, polyethylene glycol or dicalcium phosphate. A control group of lambs was offered the restorative medicines only after they had recovered.
After this learning process, lambs were given food containing one of the three substances that had disagreed with them, and a choice of the three medicines. The only lambs to show a preference were those that had learned which medicine would cure them, a preference that persisted for at least five months (Animal Behaviour, DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2005.09.012).
Perhaps now the poor image sheep are saddled with will improve. They have to survive in a world where the only constant is change. "If 'stupid' means an inability to behave based on past experiences or on consequences, sheep are not stupid at all," says Villalba.
So when Al Gore goes off his meds...