60-Second Science

Animals That Seek Out Alcohol

Researchers have found animals that go out of their way to get the equivalent of nine drinks a night. Cynthia Graber reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

There are plenty of tales of animals finding some alcohol and getting tipsy. But those stories usually involve manmade beer or wine. There’s been no evidence of animals seeking out naturally fermented fruit in the wild—until now. Researchers stumbled upon the first example of animals looking for a drink in the Malaysian rainforest.

The scientists noticed a yeasty smell wafting from a local palm. They saw a frothy substance, like the head on a mug of beer. It turns out the palm’s nectar has as much alcohol as some beer does. Then scientists followed two tiny mammals – the pentailed treeshrew and the slow loris. The critters dip into the nectar several times nightly. They regularly guzzle the equivalent of about nine drinks a night—though they don’t display what we’d consider drunken behavior. And they act as the plant’s pollinator. The research appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The pentailed treeshrew is a living version of an ancient mammal, a kind of relic of the mammals from which both shrews and primates –  and eventually humans – branched off. So this discovery could lend some weight to the hypothesis that our love of the hard stuff has a deep evolutionary history. I’ll toast to that.

—Cynthia Graber

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