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ParentsJune 21, 2017

Imagine a world without Pamol: how animal parents medicate their kids


Our favourite animal expert Thom Adams is back to reassure us about our parenting choices by looking to the animal world.

I’m not sure why, but first-time parents have this weird resistance to giving their kids medicine. It happened to me, and I don’t know why. Fever, snotty noses and coughs are all natural responses to illness, but feeling like shit isn’t.

Pamol is pharmaceutical Jesus. But while humans have found the light, the rest of the animal kingdom are not welcome at Unichem (except for companion animals which we consider to be half-human hybrids). Of course animals were using medicine way before us anyway so don’t start swanning about town like Winston Peters after a Grey Power meeting. You ain’t that shit hot mate.

If I’ve made you feel inadequate as a parent before, now let me make you feel inadequate as a doctor-parent as I shoehorn parenting tips into weird animal facts.

Sparrows malaria-proof their nests

A while back, some ecologists had a conversation. I think it went something like this:

“Hey, what do you think the ramifications would be if we completely eradicated one animal?”

“How could you even consider that kind of question?”

“I’m talking about mosquitos.”

“Oh yeah fuck those guys.”

Now you can’t really contemplate causing the extinction of an animal species just because they’re annoying as hell. Lucky for us, mosquitos are also responsible for spreading the malaria parasite, killing hundreds of thousands of people every year. It’s devastating, and humans aren’t the only ones affected. Birds, reptiles, and other mammals can also be infected, to the point where some species have literally been wiped out by it. Sparrows in India can be decimated by an outbreak of malaria, especially their young.

One of the oldest treatments for malaria is quinine, which can be extracted from the bark of the chinchona tree. The powdered bark was bitter as hell, so they mixed with sweetened water, making the earliest example of tonic water. Colonial Brits in India bafflingly tried to combat the taste with gin which inexplicably worked. Gin and tonics were born, and people finally had a classy drink to get at a bar that wouldn’t make the bartender hate them while simultaneously letting them get shit faced.


The problem with all of this is that your average sparrow has a hard time making a decent gin and tonic. They can’t cut a lime to save themselves and their ratios are fucked up. So fucked up that you can actually taste the gin which is not the point of a gin and tonic. I’m also be bypassing the problematic idea of serving your kids gin and tonic. That’s my drink.

Anyway, this would be a major issue, except that sparrows in India have figured out an alternative. It turns out there’s another tree that produces quinine, the paradise flower tree. Most of the time, Indian sparrows will just use any old leaf from any old tree to line their nests. When a malaria outbreak hits, they’ll switch to the paradise flower tree. And probably shit in some colonialist’s G and T. Toodle pip motherfucker.

There are limited applications of this for us human parents. The only thing I can think of is continually lacing your child’s milk with worming medication or using henna as a hair dye to keep away lice. Don’t do that to your child. Overexposure to henna can lead to crystals forming on your windowsills.


Bees vaccinate their young

There’s a theory that one of the reasons we lost the ability to regenerate our body parts is so that we could have the ridiculous immune system that we currently have. And our immune system is ridiculous. It takes its job so seriously that it can literally try to kill you if it senses a foreign invader. Bacterial infection? Burn it with fever! Virus? Purge the systems until nothing remains! Peanuts? Anaphylaxis bitch! Granted, this is the extreme. Most illnesses are dealt with by making you feel guilty about going to work.

Now rather than freak the fuck out every time the body gets invaded, your immune system can ‘remember’ what it’s been infected by before and neutralise repeat attackers with antibodies. It’s a bit like being mauled by a tiger, then carrying around a picture of a tiger as well as an ‘anti-tiger rock’ to prevent further attacks, but a lot more effective. It’s a nifty system. What’s even more nifty is that babies can sort of piggy back off their mum’s own set of antibodies, usually giving them a decent immunity to this diseased cesspit we call ‘outside Mum’.

On to bees. They don’t have an ‘outside Mum’ or, as a consequence, an ‘inside Mum’. But every baby bee hatches from its egg with a certain level of immunity to most of the bacteria and other nasties without any exposure to said greeblies. How does that happen? How do young bees develop an immunity to infections without being exposed to them in the first place?

The secret is in the royal jelly, a substance worker bees make out of pollen. Royal jelly is the main food of queen bees and bee larvae. It’s also used as a bullshit ‘nutritional supplement’ as well as in some lubes. That’s right, there are people out there coating their genitals in baby bee food and mashing them together. When the worker bees are flying around your garden, they’re not just collecting honey and pollen. Those aforementioned nasties also hitch a ride, and so when the bees are feeding their queen with royal jelly, some of that bacteria gets eaten as well.

Inside of the queen’s body is a special protein called ‘vitellogenin’ which I’d never heard of before but sounds exactly like the kind of protein I’d expect to see involved in boosting the immune system. Shits all over Echinacea. As the queen digests the bacteria and other nasties, their pieces get bound to the protein and enter her bloodstream. When she lays her eggs, the vitellogenin comes with them, and the babies are vaccinated. Going back to the tiger analogy, this could be like showing your babies a picture of a tiger before they’re born but I prefer to liken it to showing your baby the pieces of a tiger you killed yourself.


Slow lorises fight predators with allergies

Look at this.

Look at it! Let its cuteness bring tears of honey to your eyes and lament that nothing in your life will ever be as cute. Nothing. Your kittens are a revolting combination of a naked mole rat and the mind of H.R. Giger.

Not only are slow lorises cute, they’re also super badass. Don’t be fooled by their first defense mechanism, which is to freeze and cover their eyes. They’re hoping that your arteries will clog up with pure adorable glee and your heart will be unable to pump your newly thickened blood, killing you almost immediately. If that doesn’t work, they’ve got another trick up their fursleeves.

Venom. These cute little fuckers are venomous. One of only two mammals in the world who decided to kick up their biting game a notch. They have a patch on each arm, just on the inside of their elbow, which secretes a toxin they lick off. When mixed with their saliva, it gets super potent. Potent enough that it will make bears and leopards back off. Then the adorable little fuckers will bite you. They’ll bite you and they won’t let go until you’ve learned your goddamned lesson.

Turns out the toxin is molecularly similar to cat dander. But mess-your-shit-up cat dander. It basically causes an anaphylactic reaction in your body similar to what you get from an allergy. So is Mum Loris using allergy causing bites to protect her young? Hell yeah she is, but it goes further. When she’s grooming her young, she’ll lick that patch on her elbow and spread it all over their fur. Boom, her babies are now toxic. What now predator? Baby loris? Anaphylaxis bitch!

I usually like to relate these to something you can do with your own kids, but your saliva is pretty piss-poor and I doubt your kids will stay still long enough for you to get a decent coating.  So… I don’t know. Maybe a generous coating of peanut butter?

There you go, animals get by just fine without Pamol. But you know that they’d use the hell out of it if they could open the childproof cap. Pamol is love. Pamol is life.

This article is not sponsored by Pamol. My sleep is.

Thom Adams is a science educator and parent-time comedian. A gigantic nature and politics geek, he’s instilling the virtues of making accurate animal sounds in his daughter who insist on calling giraffes cows to mess with him. Follow him on Twitter.

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