Chimpanzees treat cuts with the haemolymph inside insects

NEWS AND COMMENT: Researchers have discovered that chimpanzees in Gabon, Africa, treat each other with the fluid inside an unknown insect (haemolymph) when they have suffered a wound which causes a cut. It is believed that this fluid contains something which helps to alleviate discomfort and heal the wound more rapidly. That is the observation and assessment of a group of researchers from the University of Osnabruck, Germany, the lead author of which is Simone Pika. They said: “There are some substances that might have anti-inflammatory or pain-killing functions. So, they press it out and then they put the insect in the wound”.

I did a bit of quick research and came up with this:

The fluid inside insects is called haemolymph. It’s insect blood but quite different to vertebrate blood because it does not contain erythrocytes and it contains a high concentration of free amino acids. Free amino acids have been shown to be able to help greatly with muscle tissue building and nervous system maintenance. And they are hypoallergenic. Perhaps the answer is there. Perhaps the haemolymph of insects helps repair a chimpanzee’s wound in their skin.

Why isn’t this reported? I have speculated and expanded the report. This is my input please note. But I believe that it is fair and useful.

Chimps use crushed insects to treat wounds
Chimps use crushed insects to treat wounds. Photo: in public domain or fair use,

Apparently, she was sitting in the jungle of Gabon watching a chimpanzee inspect her son’s wounded foot. She grabbed an insect out of the air, placed it in her mouth to squeeze it and then put it carefully in the cut. She apparently broke the insects exoskeleton to release the haemolymph.

It seems that putting the insect in their mouth may also result in some of the antibiotic benefits of saliva being used to treat the wound. She said that: “What we think is that maybe they are mixing it with the saliva and pressing something out of the insect”.

The findings have been published in the journal Current Biology. It’s the first time that this sort of chimpanzee behaviour has been documented. Although it has been known for some time that apes self-medicate using plants.

They need to do more work on the project to discover the exact chemical composition of the fluid inside insects which helps to treat a cut. Is my theory correct? ?. The treatment is useful because the chimpanzees observed live in a group in which there is lots of fighting. The fighting has resulted in 76 open wounds over a 15-month period.

They are unsure how the chimpanzees discovered this form of treatment. Perhaps an individual accidentally rubbed an insect into a wound (by walking on them?) And discovered that the pain was alleviated or that it healed faster. The information was transmitted to other chimpanzees and they followed.

The process subsequently developed into a cultural activity. The third possibility is that the process of treating a wound with an insect acts as a placebo. The recipient believes that it helps them and therefore it does. Or it is just a cultural practice which perhaps tells the recipient that the provider is caring for them. Perhaps it is a bonding process as well.

This last possibility is real because we have the same sort of behaviour in humans. Think about the deeply embedded superstitions which support Chinese traditional medicine which is reliant upon the body parts of wild animals including the critically endangered tiger. No science supports it and in the meantime, tigers are being poached for no reason.

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