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To protect against parasites: birds incorporate cigarettes into their nests
When health experts point out how best to protect yourself from ticks, cigarettes are never mentioned. The glowing stems can obviously help other living things. According to a study from Mexico, birds build cigarette ends in order to protect themselves from parasites. Domestic animals show similar behaviors - some of them even use medicinal herbs.
Finches deliberately install cigarette butts in nests
A study by Mexican researchers has shown that finches that live in cities specifically incorporate cigarette butts into their nests. The birds apparently use the butts to protect themselves from parasites such as ticks, reports Monserrat Suárez-Rodríguez and Constantino Macías García from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in the journal "Journal of Avian Biology". There are also birds with similar behavior in this country - some even use medicinal plants.
Smoked butts are used to prevent parasites
The Mexican scientists already dealt with the topic in an earlier study.
"Urbanization is becoming increasingly interesting for biologists because it causes significant changes in the species composition, species interactions and ecological and evolutionary processes," wrote the researchers in 2012 in the journal "Biology Letters".
Even then, the experts said: "We have provided the first proof that smoked cigarette butts can act as a parasite defense in urban bird nests."
Cigarette filters drive ticks away
As part of their current study, the two researchers examined nests of house gimp (Carpodacus mexicanus), reports the news agency dpa.
These birds belong to the finch family. The scientists exchanged parts of 32 nests on the unicampus. They put live ticks in ten nests, put dead ticks in ten, the remaining twelve remained untreated.
It was shown that those finches in particular collected cigarette filters whose nests were infected by live ticks.
Until now it was unclear whether the animals might also collect the fibers because they insulate particularly well, for example. Such a heat effect was not found in the study.
But the bullfinches could probably make a connection between the fibers and tick-free.
It was shown that some females who brought fibers into prepared nests had already done so in their original nests. According to the researchers, the birds may have learned this from previous tick infestation.
Native bird species use medicinal herbs
As reported by dpa, Helga Gwinner from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen knows comparable behaviors of native bird species.
A star colony in Bavaria has specialized in yarrow and other essential oil plants as nest material. The herbs reduce bacterial growth in the nests.
“The starlings are looking for exactly these plants on the meadows. They even show the flowers and herbs to the females during courtship behavior before they weave the plants into the nest, ”said the expert, according to the agency.
According to Gwinner, the herbs would also have a positive effect on the animals themselves. According to this, bird cubs growing up in such nests were heavier, had better blood values and better chances of returning from their winter quarters in Africa.
According to the Mexican scientists, the use of cigarette ends for bullfinches could also have negative consequences.
However, the team has not registered any long-term damage to the birds during years of observing the finch nests in Mexico City. This needs to be examined in more detail, but until then the incorporation of the fibers into the nests can be seen as a form of self-medication.
Thrown away cigarette butts are fundamentally not only an aesthetic annoyance, but also a problem for the environment.
According to scientific studies, the filters made of cellulose acetate fibers only take years to decompose. Used filters contain toxins such as tar and nicotine that can get into the soil and water. (ad)