Why Chimps Eat Dead Wood and Other Plants

A look at the long list of plants and plant parts that chimps consume and how they help them.

Image: A chimpanzee mother and her infant. (Courtesy of Dr. Mike Wilson, Jane Goodall Institute, via Science-AAAS).

Chimpanzees self-medicate, suggests a new study in the journal Physiology & Behavior, which also mentions many of their consumed plants with medicinal properties. Here is the list:

Aneilema aequinoctiale leaves de-wormer Antiaris toxicaria leaves anti-tumor

(Wikimedia Commons Image)

Bosqueia phoberos leaves anti-bacterial Chaetacme aristata bark anti-bacterial Cordia abyssinica pith anti-malarial, anti-tuberculosis, anti-bacterial Diospyros abyssinica leaves multiple biological activities Ficus capensis leaves anti-bacterial and multiple biological activities Ficus exasperata unripe fruits de-worming agent, reduces stomach acids Ficus natalensis bark anti-bacterial Ficus stipulifera leaves anti-malarial, anti-bacterial Ficus urceolaris /Ficus asperifolia leaves dewormer Illigera pentaphylla leaves anti-bacterial, anti-malarial Jasminum abyssinicum leaves de-wormer Lepisanthes senegalensis leaves anti-malarial Mimusops bagshawei leaves anti-malarial Monodora myristica leaves de-wormer, anti-malarial Myrianthus arboreus leaves anti-malarial Neoboutonia macrocalyx dead wood many biological properties Olea welwitschii leaves anti-malarial, other properties Parinari excelsa leaves numerous biological properties Phytolacca dodecandra unripe fruits anti-viral, spermicidal and more Psychotria mahonii root anti-malarial Pterygota mildbraedii leaves anti-bacterial Rothmannia urcelliformis leaves anti-bacterial Rubia cordifolia leaves de-wormer

(Wikimedia Commons Image)

Solanecio manii pith several biological properties Teclea nobilis root anti-malarial Trichilia rubescens leaves anti-bacterial and more

Lead author Shelly Masi of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and her team point out that chimpanzees and other primates learn to consume such plants by copying the eating habits of other older and highly ranked individuals. The chimps may not directly link the consumption with treating a particular illness, but they probably just know that this plant has some value because so-and-so ate it and is doing well.

While some of these plants are also used as medicines by humans, many can be toxic. Antiaris toxicaria, for example, is also utilized as a dart poison.

Therefore, it has to be said that you should not consume these mentioned plants without expert guidance. That's one reasonmedical research is so important. Scientists can isolate the effective medicinal compounds of such plants while removing their more dangerous agents.