Program No.18-003

Behavioral research, plenary lecture at the 22nd National Congress of the Italian Society of Ethology and research collaborations

Michael A. Huffman

9th November,2006 - 1st October,2006


Between September 9 - 17, I was at the Parco Natura Viva Zoo on the outskirts of Verona. There, I observed the two groups of captive chimpanzees and worked together with my Italian collaborators on the analysis of our observations conducted during a previous visit, for publication. We exchanged information and discussed ideas for future studies.

Between September 18 - 22, I flew to Palermo Sicily and drove on to the town of Erice, where the 22nd Italian Ethological Society's annual congress was held. At the invitation of the society's president Prof. Elisabetta Visalberghi and this year's organizer Prof. Stefano Colazza, I gave a plenary lecture entitled "The evolution of self-medication as an adaptive behavioral strategy for defense against parasites in primates" ( At these meetings, participants presented papers on various timely topics currently of interest in Italy. Across the three days of meetings, presentations were divided up into 5 different sessions: behavioral ecology, navigation and orientation, animal cognition & behavioral neurology, sexual behavior, applied ethology and conservation. Distinguished ethologists from around the country and elsewhere gathered, introducing exciting research results from their work representing a variety of taxa including insects, fish, birds, dogs and primates. In total 54 presentations and 63 posters were presented. The congress was attended by over 100 participants from universities and other institutions throughout Italy. The days and evenings were filled with lively discussion and warm Italian hospitality.

Between September 23 - 30, I moved to Pisa where I met with colleagues at the University of Pisa and their Natural History Museum in Calci for research discussions, exchange of information and to plan furture collaborative work. On the 25th, I presented a 2-hour seminar to students and researchers of the museum on the topic of Biological and ecological foundations of social learning in Japanese monkeys and chimpanzees: a fusion of wild and captive studies.

Lecture room at Natural History Museum of the University of Pisa, Calci, Italy

Entrance to the conference hall of St. Giovanni Church in Erice, Sicily, Italy

View from the town of Erice, Sicily, Italy looking down towards the Mediterranean Sea

chimpanzee enclosure of Parco Natura Viva, Verona, Italy


Plenary lecture of 22nd IES Congress given in Erice:


Michael A. Huffman

The effect of parasitosis on the host and the host's response to infection is undoubtedly the product of a long evolutionary process. When the well being of an animal is compromised by parasite infection, to the point that daily activities no longer become possible or when reproduction and infant rearing are affected, it is unquestionably in that individual's interest to respond. Growing awareness
and interest in the ways that primates are able to prevent or suppress the deleterious effects of parasitism, via behavioral means, has led to increased attention on the evolution and operation of a self-medicative system. Here, self-medication is defined as those behavioral strategies by which animals avoid or suppress disease transmission, treat or control disease and / or its symptoms
thereby directly or indirectly enhancing their health and reproductive fitness.
Health maintenance and self-medicative behaviors in primates can be classified into four levels: 1) optimal avoidance or reduction of the possibility for disease transmission: 2) the dietary selection of items with a preventative or health maintenance affect: 3) ingestion of a substance for the curative treatment of a disease or the symptoms thereof: and 4) external application of a substance to
the body for the treatment or control of disease bearing insects. Evidence suggests that these self-medicative systems are operated by an interactive combination of behavioral propensities that help to insure the social transmission of appropriate learned behavioral patterns and the associated ingestion or topical application of substances with curative properties.

HOPE Project<>