Monarch Butterflies Use Plants As Medicine (Video)

Humans aren’t the only species that finds creative ways to self-medicate, according to a recent study by scientists at Emory University.

Research journal Ecology Letters recently published findings that demonstrate monarch butterflies use certain plants as medication to cure themselves and their offspring of disease.

“We have shown that some species of milkweed, the larva’s food plants, can reduce parasite infection in the monarchs,” said study leader Jaap de Roode, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University (Futurity).

“And we have also found that infected female butterflies prefer to lay their eggs on plants that will make their offspring less sick, suggesting that monarchs have evolved the ability to medicate their offspring.”

During the study, experiments showed that egg-laying monarchs that are infected with a parasite choose plants that have a medicinal benefit for their caterpillars.

Scientists hope that learning more about how wildlife uses plants to prevent disease could lead to a better understanding of how humans can benefit from organic medications as well.

“Studying organisms engaged in self-medication gives us a clue as to what compounds might be worth investigating for their potential as human medicines,” said University of Michigan chemical ecologist Mark Hunter, who collaborated with de Roode’s group on the research.

Watch the video to learn more, and get a tour of one of the few labs in the world studying monarch butterflies!

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Image Credit: Flickr - docentjoyce

57 comments

Ann Breeden
Ann Breeden3 years ago

I've passed this on because I find it fascinating. Nature is so wonderful!

Melinda K.
Past Member 4 years ago

animals are super smart, many species self medicate with herbs, primates, horses, goats, they are incredible!

Elisabeth T.
Elisabeth T.4 years ago

What a great articlel/video, thanks so much...

Sarah Olson
Sarah Olson5 years ago

thanks for sharing : )

Julianna D.
Juliana D.5 years ago

Wow, pretty cool.

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M.5 years ago

I really enjoyed this article and video... Isn't nature great! How much more is there to be learned from all species!

Kha Bliss
Past Member 5 years ago

Great information. It is interesting that an insect such as a butterfly can actually make a distinction as to what is good for their offspring and we as humans struggle with that! Amazing!

Annick Letourneau

Wow! Perfection is in nature!

Suzanne Hall
Suzanne Hall5 years ago

Very interesting article, thanks!

Philippa P.
Philippa P.5 years ago

More animals self-medicate than we know about. They are great at healing themselves.