Learning from Toxins

Do unpalatable foods naturally taste bad (innate) or do they taste bad because they contain toxins (feedback)?

In general, animals avoid foods that are high in toxins. How do they know which foods are toxic?

Principle 1: Animals learn to avoid foods that are toxic. Their bodies tell them which foods are harmful based on feedback from the gut.

Principle 2: In most cases, animals only eat small quantities of plants that contain toxins because toxins in plants set a limit on intake. Most toxins do not cause death or obvious sign of illness instead they keep animals from eating plants. 

Watch the Video (on youtube)

Management implications

Unpalatable plants. Animals do not avoid foods because they taste bad. They avoid foods because they are novel or they make animals sick. See Training animals to eat unpalatable plants

Nutrients and toxins. Managers can train animals to eat many toxic plants if they provide additional nutrients to help animals detoxify the toxins in toxic plants.

Medicines. Managers can train animals to eat toxic plants if they can provide the proper medicine to counteract the toxin. For example, polyethylene glycol (PEG) binds to tannin, FEB-200 binds to fungal alkaloids in endophyte infected grasses.

If animals are so smart, why do they still die from poisonous plants?

Fact Sheets