Cigarettes are often thought to be a blight on our society and our environment, but a recent study has found that our smoking habit does provide some small benefit to the world. A research project conducted by the National Autonomous University of Mexico has revealed that birds in urban environments have been using the toxic chemicals found in cigarettes to fend off nest dwelling parasites. Ticks, mites and other eco-parasites eat bird feathers and suck blood causing damage to hatchlings and adult birds alike.

The scientists on the project carried out a test using finch nests to conclusively confirm their theory. The researchers removed the natural lining of thirty-two nests and replaced it with artificial alternative. The nests were divided into three groups: one with live ticks, one with dead ticks and one with no ticks at all.

The experiment revealed that parent finches would deposit considerably more cigarette butts if their nests contained parasites, with the average weight of cigarette butts being 40 percent greater in tick ridden nests. Despite this benefit to the finches in warding off ticks, the scientists also reported that those finches that are often in close contact with cigarette ends suffered problems with red cell division.

Steve Portugal from Royal Holloway, University of London said “I think the anti-parasite effects the cigarette butts provide must outweigh any negative problems they cause. Alternatively, the genotoxic effects take longer to manifest, and the adult birds aren’t aware of any problem.”

Students hoping to study Natural Sciences should investigate the advantages and disadvantages of contact with toxic chemicals for different species of wildlife and the manner in which these chemicals disrupt cells.

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