We’re not the only animals that like to knock back the hard stuff. Studies have shown that some mammals seek out food and drink that naturally contains alcohol. And according to new research, fruit flies will purposely hit the bottle: to self-medicate.
Fruit fly larvae eat rotting and fermenting fruit. The tiny insects have developed strong alcohol resistance. Which comes in handy when faced with parasitic wasps.
Scientists studied two species of wasps that lay their eggs inside fruit fly larvae. When the wasps hatch, they eat the fruit flies from the inside out. But when the flies have consumed extra alcohol, the wasps have a tougher time depositing their young among the larvae. And even if they do manage to infect the fruit fly larvae, not as many wasps survive in the presence of alcohol.
In the new study, scientists found that the fruit flies seek out alcohol when they become infected—in effect, as anti-wasp medicine. The finding was published in the journal Current Biology. [Neil F. Milan, Balint Z. Kacsoh and Todd A. Schlenke, "Alcohol Consumption as Self-Medication against Blood-Borne Parasites in the Fruit Fly"]
The researchers say there’s no evidence that humans use alcohol at times for parasite control. But it might be time to do that experiment. Under more controlled conditions than usual.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]