One of the Few Benefits of Smoking

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When we talked about smoking this year in class, we learned that it is in fact a bad habit that causes serious health issues.  It is also known that cigarette butts are one of the most commonly littered things in our society.  For some reason people feel less guilty throwing a cigarette butt on the ground than an empty bag of chips or water bottle.  Cigarette butts are made of some nasty stuff, but surprisingly, scientists have just learned that there may be a benefit of people tossing their cigarettes on the street.  A very recent study has found evidence that birds that use cigarette butts to build their nests have a less chance of getting certain parasites.  It may sound crazy, but it does make sense.


For a very long time, birds have come up with techniques to repel parasites away from their nests.  They have used different types of plants, including tobacco, that contain natural pesticides that drive away parasites.  What we did not know, though, was that birds in populated areas have been doing the same thing but with cigarette butts instead of plants.  Cigarettes contain nicotine, and nicotine is a naturally occurring pesticide that works against mites that commonly invade birds' nests.  Some of the other chemicals in cigarettes may also work as pesticides, but that is not known for sure yet.  Another plus to lining nests with cigarette butts is that they work as a form of insulation.  This means that not only do the butts keep away pests, but they also keep the nests warm during the cold winter season (The Telegraph).

This new information was discovered by a team of scientists in Mexico City.  Here is an article from Nature describing what they learned.  Monserrat Suarez-Rodriguez and her crew examined the nests of sparrows and finches.  They found that the nests with more cellulose acetate, a compound contained in cigarette filters, had less parasites.  This definitely seems like a strange coincidence or something, so Suarez-Rodriguez and her team conducted an experiment to test the findings.  She placed traps to catch the parasites in 55 sparrow and finch nests and used cigarette butts to lure in the mites.  In some of the nests, she used butts of fresh cigarettes and in the other she used butts of cigarettes that had already been smoked.  The results were as expected.  The nests with the unsmoked butts had a significant amount more mites in their traps than the nests with the smoked butts.  This is because of the nicotine contents of each type of butt.  The smoked butts contain more nicotine because of the smoke that has traveled through them.  The more nicotine in the butt, the more effective it is as a pesticide.  Therefore, the nests containing the smoked butts repelled more mites and caught less in the traps.  The nests with the unsmoked butts caught more mites because the mites were not driving away by nicotine (Kaplan). 

Though I wouldn't advise smokers to throw their used butts on the ground instead of in the trash, I think this study is very interesting.  It shows how animals are constantly adapting and adjusting to the resources they have available.  It is amazing to see how nature works itself out and finds new ways to thrive.  I also thinks it is really cool to see an animal to adapt by using something as unnatural as used cigarette butts.  Things like this make me wonder how much nature will continue to adapt and change as time goes on.  It also makes me wonder if people and animals will find other new ways to use what would normally be considered a pollutant to their advantage.  Nature always finds a way to adapt to whats available, the use of cigarette butts in birds' nests is a terrific example of it.

Works Cited:

"Birds Line Nests with Cigarette Butts to Repel Pests, Scientists Claim." The Telegraph. N.p., 5 Dec. 2012. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.

Kaplan, Matt. Nature Publishing Group, n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.

1 Comment

I found this blog to be very interesting, and you raise some good points in the last paragraph about animals' ability to adapt to the consequences of human behavior. It makes me wonder, if animals can adapt to pollution like in this case and can use it to their advantage, will they be able to adapt to other situations like global warming? If birds have realized that the cigarette butts can be used positively to build their nests and ward off pests, will they be able to adapt to the changing climate and use that to their advantage? It's hard to say but situations like this certainly give hope to the possibility that natures animals will be able to survive just about anything that gets thrown at them.

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