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Red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons) uses millipede for self medication

Penelitian - Madagascar’s red-fronted lemurs may have a secret weapon from nature’s medicine cabinet: millipedes. A study led by Louise Peckre of the German Primate Center at the Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Germany believe that Eulemur rufifrons chew on millipedes to treat and prevent conditions such as itching or weight loss which are caused by parasites that might live in and around their guts.

The research is published in Primates that lemurs, alongside other primates like spider monkeys, have a habit of rubbing foreign objects, substances or materials over parts of their bodies. Experts refer to such actions as self-anointing and they believe that animals do this as a form of communication, to remove toxic substances before ingestion, or as a way of self-medicating.

Penelitian Red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons) uses millipede for self medication

Peckre and colleagues observed five groups of E. rufifrons in Kirindy Forest on Madagascar that six animals in the groups were chewing on millipedes (likely Sechelleptus). These millipedes had emerged a few hours after the first heavy rain of the season. The chewing produced copious amounts of an orange-coloured substance which the researchers assumed was a mixture of saliva and millipede secretions.

The animals then rubbed the area around their genitals, anuses and tails with the chomped millipedes. Quite a few millipedes were also swallowed after much chewing. The researchers believe that the lemurs eat the millipedes specifically because they secrete benzoquinone, a substance that is also known to repel mosquitoes.

“Self-anointment combined with eating millipede secretions may be a way of self-medication by red-fronted lemurs,” says Peckre.

Self-anointment in this way could help the animals cleanse themselves of parasites often found in their gastric system and intestines and, more specifically, Oxyuridae nematodes that are known to cause irritation around animals’ anus area. Being infested with these worms and their eggs often causes an animal’s skin to break out in an itchy rash.

“Strikingly, during the fur-rubbing observations, we noticed the presence of bald areas on the lower back of many animals. These are known as sit spots, and are likely caused by repeated rubbing. These bald areas may then indicate the presence of infections by Oxyuridae in the population at the time.” explains Peckre.

LaporanPenelitian.com Red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons) uses millipede for self medication

Several species of birds and mammals are known to rub themselves with millipedes and even to eat them. Most millipedes secrete a variety of chemicals to defend themselves from predators. These chemicals are sedative, repellent, irritant and toxic.

The researchers believe the lemurs use the millipedes not only to treat the condition, but also to prevent it. The team would like to see further research that compares primate species that anoint their body without ingesting the millipedes to those species that also ingest the millipedes. They expect that primates that are more exposed to digestive parasites would be more likely to eat the crushed millipedes.

Several species of birds and mammals are known to rub themselves with millipedes and even to eat them. Most millipedes secrete a variety of chemicals to defend themselves from predators. These chemicals are sedative, repellent, irritant and toxic.

Journal : Louise R. Peckre et al. Potential self-medication using millipede secretions in red-fronted lemurs: combining anointment and ingestion for a joint action against gastrointestinal parasites? Primates, 30 July 2018, DOI:10.1007/s10329-018-0674-7

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