6 Surprisingly Advanced Ways Animals Use Medicine

#3. Monkeys and Elephants Practice Family Planning

If there's one single thing that separates humans from animals, it's that we actually put some thought into who we'll have sex with. Animals don't plan for a baby; they just hump the nearest female they see and let natural selection take care of the rest. Hell, dogs will hump your leg if they're in the mood. They don't care. Put it in front of them, they'll hump it.

Of course they will. They're animals. Enjoying sex without getting pregnant is advanced stuff -- most human teenagers can't manage it, let alone monkeys.

The Medicine: Chemicals for Birth Control and Induced Labor

The woolly spider monkeys of Brazil have it figured out.

They've also cornered the limb market.

According to the Smithsonian National Zoo, anthropologists have found that the monkey females eat certain types of plants that increase their estrogen levels, thereby decreasing their fertility rates. Interestingly, they also found that others were eating plants that very likely raised the probability of getting pregnant. So those monkeys not only take the pill -- they come off of it and replace it with fertility treatments when necessary. Whoa.

Brian Fitzgerald
Hope they have adoption centers, too, because awwwww.

African elephants, meanwhile, have figured out ways to induce labor. A pregnant elephant was once seen walking 17 miles to get to a certain tree, uprooting it and eating it whole. A few days later, a healthy calf was born. It hardly seems like coincidence -- trees of this very family, Boraginaceae, are also used by local Kenyan people to induce labor.

And while eating a whole tree might seem somewhat excessive, this is not uncommon behavior in elephants, as seen in Dresden Zoo, Munich:

National Geographic
Yes, that is a whole Christmas tree. Yes, he ate five of the damn things.

#2. Birds Use Anti-Lice Shampoo

Many of the parents among our readers probably know of the nasty little souvenirs their kids can sometimes bring home from kindergarten or elementary school, and we're not talking about dead slugs, Pokemon cards or Justin Bieber merchandise. We're talking about this:

Oh, hey, it doesn't look as freaky up close and oh no our brains have died.

Animals have the same problem with lice and even worse kinds of bugs. And it can be a killer for birds, since their whole bodies are covered in large, dense feathers that make a wonderful breeding ground. The same feathers the bird really needs in order to keep functioning as a bird.

"I told you sons a' bitches to check your bags!"

But what's a creature with a brain the size of a pea gonna do about it?

The Solution: Smoke and Acid

Maybe you've heard about the superstition that a raven or crow on the roof brings bad luck. Or maybe you saw Stephen King's made-for-TV movie The Stand and figured it out yourself. As we have pointed out previously, those birds are freakishly intelligent, and people of olden times theorized that the black bird on the straw-thatched roof is in fact plotting to set it on fire.

Harald Hoyer
This is still true, only now they'd strip the lead off first.

Well, not quite that: The smoke that comes up from home roofs can fumigate lice or other nasty parasites right out of a bird's plumage. In modern times, people have witnessed crows air out their wings over a cigarette.

Oh, and just in case man is not so helpful as to provide burning stuff for their hygienic needs, there is even a well-documented case of a tame rook that learned how to strike matches for exactly that purpose. There are no reports of what other things "Corbie" managed to light up this way, but we're certain that many orphans died.

Welcome to Marlboro CAWntry.

In a more unusual practice, birds have been observed engaging in a hardcore delousing method known as "anting." In active anting, birds pick up ants -- particularly ones that can spray formic acid -- and rub them along their flight feathers to kill any hangers-on. Passive anting is, well, a little more masochistic. Basically the birds will just find an anthill, drape themselves over it and enjoy the sensation of an ant swarm crawling over their wings, eating every louse they see.

"Gee, this is a great idea and I should try it right now!" -- No one.

#1. Caterpillars Poison Themselves to Save Themselves

Caterpillars, being essentially little more than sentient pipe cleaners, could not be expected to stand much of a chance against, well, anything. They're pretty much at the bottom of the food chain, basically brainless, shuffling bits of meat for smarter animals to much on.

They're such easy targets that somewhere along the line they even became the prison bitch to the tachina fly, which has taken to laying their eggs inside the caterpillars so their little fly babies can have a tasty meal when they eventually hatch. So it's not like with most parasites, where the bugs just kind of camp out in the guts of their host, making them miserable and stealing their nutrients. These larva will eat that caterpillar from the inside out -- eventually killing it altogether.

And it couldn't be perpetrated by a more adorable creature.

And yet, there is one thing that caterpillars are very, very good at: eating. And they turned it into a weapon.

The Medicine: Plant Insecticides

Experiments have shown that infected woolly bear caterpillars will seek out and eat plants containing a specific alkaloid that kills their unwelcome subtenants. And if that already seems like way more thinking than a caterpillar should be capable of, it turns out they also carefully manage the dose. Being insects themselves, the chemicals also poison them -- so they have to take just enough to kill the bugs living inside them without killing themselves. All without the benefit of one of those little cough syrup measuring cups to make sure they don't OD.

Between parasites and poison, this little thing is more alive than any of us, man.

Wait, there's more. If you're thinking that caterpillars just eat these plants all the time, you're wrong -- eating the plants when healthy can kill them. The benefit comes when the parasites are present to take the brunt of the poison. In other words, the insects have to not only know that they are sick, but avoid the medicine if they aren't.

Raise your hand if you have at least one friend who can't manage that level of self-control around medication.

At least when this guy is tripping out he can survive jumping off a fifth-story balcony.

For more information for you Jack Hanna wannabes, check out 6 Adorable Cat Behaviors With Shockingly Evil Explanations and 6 Animals That Just Don't Give A F#@k.

Recommended For Your Pleasure

To turn on reply notifications, click here


The Cracked Podcast

Choosing to "Like" Cracked has no side effects, so what's the worst that could happen?

The Weekly Hit List

Sit back... Relax... We'll do all the work.
Get a weekly update on the best at Cracked. Subscribe now!