News That’s Spit To Print
The North American moose (Alces alces), which can reach more than 1,500 pounds, is a voracious eater, mostly grasses, forbs and fresh shoots from trees like willow and birch. Many plants, of course, have developed defense mechanisms to dissuade consumption by predatory ungulates. Think thorns or a bitter taste.
Which brings us to red fescue grass (Festuca rubra), which harbors a toxic fungus called Epichloe festucae that can make grazing animals sick, sometimes to the point of actual death. But moose eat lots of red fescue grass without apparent harm, which piqued the curiosity of researchers at York University in Canada.
In this month’s Biology Letters, they provide a possible answer: The saliva of moose (and reindeer) contains an anti-fungal agent that counteracts the grass fungus.
Specifically, the moose saliva anti-fungal agent inhibited fungal growth in red fescue grass, making it safer to eat more of it. “We know that animals can remember if certain plants have made them feel ill, and they may avoid these plants in future,” said study author Dawn Bazely. “This study is the first evidence, to our knowledge, of herbivore saliva being shown to ‘fight back’ and slow down the growth of the fungus.”
While the York researchers’ work offers no immediately obvious clinical applications for humans, it does prove at least that a moose is nobody’s drool.