The “animals’ pharmacy” mainly aims at treating parasites and wounds using plants and insects. But there are some unknowns here:
Is medication use a sign of intelligence? That’s not clear. In the case of animals already known to be intelligent — dolphins, chimps, elephants, dogs, and cats, for example — we can assume that the ability to foresee and remember a benefit and to learn from others plays a role in turning an accidental discovery into a habit.
But what about insects? Take butterflies:Denyse O’Leary, “The remarkable medicines wild animals find in nature” at Mind Matters News (May 24, 2022)
Take the monarch butterfly that lays its eggs on milkweed, which has antiparasite effects. “All we have to do is look at a healthy monarch butterfly and a sick monarch butterfly,” says Jacobus de Roode, assistant professor of biology at Emory University, who specializes in the beautiful creatures. “Now, a sick monarch butterfly is really affected by these parasites. The parasites bore little holes in the abdomen, and she will lose some of her bodily fluids and doesn’t feel good.” The changes in her physiology can change the way she responds to smells of the vegetation around her and she may have a genetic preference for these that would do her good.Joel Shurkin, “Animals that self-medicate” at Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Dec 9; 111(49): 17339–17341.
Fruit flies do something similar: They ensure their larvae are dunked in ethanol (alcohol) to drive off deadly parasitoid wasps.
Takehome: While intelligent animals like dolphins may sense cause and effect, we don’t know how butterflies and fruit flies pick out the plants that can help.
You may also wish to read: Why cats can remember other cats’ names. University of Kyoto scientists found that they can indeed remember, provided they live in the same household. The researchers are unsure exactly how cats remember other cats’ names. But that may not be a great mystery if we keep in mind what is involved.