The feeling of disgust is an important emotional mechanism in people’s lives. However, we are not alone in this: this feeling is also key to the health of animals.

Disgust helps protect you from disease. As a result of sensory cues, we feel disgust, for example, at the sight of an infected wound, so we move away from it if possible. Disgust also elicits cognitive and/or physical responses in animals to avoid pathogens and toxic substances.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong delved into this topic and developed a framework for testing disgust and related disease-avoidance behaviors across species, habitats, and social systems. Previous studies found more than 30 species use disease-avoidance strategies in the wild, and now experts have identified seven additional species that have been overlooked.

A variety of methods are used to investigate wild animal disgust


The researchers wrote that species display different levels of disease-avoidance behavior depending on their social system and ecological niches Journal of Animal Ecology in a journal. Solitary species are less susceptible to socially transmitted diseases, and thus less adapted to recognizing and avoiding this danger. Species that live in groups are more susceptible, but are more likely to recognize and avoid sick animals.

However, there is an interesting note: species that live in colonies, such as rabbits or penguins, are more likely to tolerate infected pairs. Since species depend on each other for survival, the acquisition of herd immunity may be more effective than isolation. (By the way, this model can also be applied to human diseases, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The authors propose five practical applications of disgust-related avoidance behaviors in wildlife management and wildlife conservation. This includes rehabilitating endangered species, adjusting space use and food consumption for species that damage crops. This may include creating an environment that is unattractive to pests.

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