Increase in tannin consumption by sifaka ( Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi) females during the birth season: a case for self-medication in prosimians?

  • Carrai V
  • Borgognini-Tarli S
  • Huffman M
 et al. 
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In this study we report preliminary data on the consumption of tannin-rich plants by sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi) living in the Kirindy forest, western Madagascar. Sifakas spent most of their time feeding on only a few plant species. The tannin intake during the period between the pregnancy and birth season was significantly higher in pregnant females or females with lactating infants than in non-reproductive females and males. These periparturient females secured a larger proportion of condensed tannins by short feeding bouts on plants not included in the group's limited preferred food species. The measured increase in tannin intake is puzzling in light of the fact that tannins are commonly known for their protein-binding properties. Since protein demands are highest in pregnant and lactating females, possible medicinal benefits of tannin ingestion are considered. Tannin consumption is associated with an increase in body weight and stimulation of milk secretion. Veterinarians administer tannins as an astringent, anti-hemorrhagic and anti-abortive. Their high potential as an alternative anthelminthic has also recently been recognized. Thus, when viewed as self-medicating behavior, controlled increase in tannin intake could have multiple prophylactic advantages for females during the periparturient period. The high selectivity in their plant choice, and the presence of unusual feeding habits by a particular group of individuals (females with infants) limited in time (birth season), suggests that an increase in tannin ingestion may be a self-medicating behavior with multiple directly adaptive benefits to female reproduction.

Author-supplied keywords

  • benefits
  • self-medication æ condensed tannins
  • sifaka females æ reproductive
  • æ

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  • Valentina Carrai

  • Silvana M Borgognini-Tarli

  • Michael a Huffman

  • Massimo Bardi

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