Evidence for trans-generational medication in nature

Ecol Lett. 2010 Dec;13(12):1485-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01537.x. Epub 2010 Oct 7.


Parasites pose a serious threat to host fitness, and natural selection should favour host traits that reduce infection or disease symptoms. Here, we provide the first evidence of trans-generational medication, in which animals actively use medicine to mitigate disease in their offspring. We studied monarch butterflies and their virulent protozoan parasites, and found that neither caterpillars nor adult butterflies could cure themselves of disease. Instead, adult butterflies preferentially laid their eggs on toxic plants that reduced parasite growth and disease in their offspring caterpillars. It has often been suggested that sick animals may use medication to cure themselves of disease, but evidence for the use of medication in nature has so far been scarce. Our results provide evidence that infected animals may indeed use medicine as a defence against parasites, and that such medication may target an individual's offspring rather than the individual itself.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apicomplexa / physiology
  • Asclepias / chemistry
  • Asclepias / parasitology
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Butterflies / parasitology*
  • Cardenolides / analysis
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / physiology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / physiology*
  • Oviposition / physiology


  • Cardenolides