Sparrows use herb medicine to produce healthier offspring: international research

SYDNEY, Dec. 8 (Xinhua) — The russet sparrow living in China can use leaves from locally grown aromatic Wormwood (Artemisia verlotorum) in a similar way how human will use this plant to protect their offspring from parasite infection, a new international study has shown.

Released on Tuesday, the study, conducted by researchers from Australia’s Griffith University, China’s Hainan Normal University and Paris-Saclay University in France, had discovered the birds utilized the medicinal property of wormwood leaves as a form of preventive medicine to reduce the number of parasites in their nests.

“The phytochemical compounds within wormwood leaves reduced infestation of the nest parasites otherwise found there, which results in the production of healthier chicks,” William Feeney from Griffith University’s Environmental Futures Research Institute said.

The use of wormwood, which contains anti-parasite compounds as a medicinal plant dates back to ancient times in China, and still can be observed in the annual Dragon Boat Festival.

“The Dragon Boat Festival is one of China’s largest national festivals, where people ritualistically hang wormwood from their doors and bath their children in wormwood infused water with the customary belief that it confers protection against ill health,” Feeney said.

In the study, researchers found the birds started to incorporate the wormwood leaves into their nests around the same time as the Dragon Boat Festival, suggesting the plant may serve a similar function for both humans and the sparrows.

“Using a series of behavioral experiments, we show that the birds actively seek out nest locations close to the available wormwood and resupply established nests with fresh wormwood leaves using gathered based solely on the leaves smell,” Feeney said.

“The nests containing wormwood leaves had lower parasite loads. By decreasing the number of parasites such as mites, the sparrows that add more wormwood leaves to their nest produce heavier and healthier chicks.”

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