Sunday, March 3, 2024
AnimalsGarden PestsInsects

Inebriated animals and insects

Do the birds and the bees get a little drunk sometimes? They certainly seem to, at least some of them.

Stories from birds getting drunk on fermenting berries and ending up in a Yukon animal drunk tank to alcoholic vervet monkeys stealing drinks from people at beach bars in the Caribbean abound online, and we have no reason to suspect they are not true. 

Honeybees sometimes get drunk from fermented nectar in flowers, but the bees in the hive do not think too much of this; they’ll attack a drunk bee when she stumbles home.

Sometimes berries can unwittingly get drunk

Some animals don’t show the effects of drinking. There is a shrew in Malaysia, the pen-tailed tree shrew, that spends a couple of hours every night drinking fermented palm nectar. It doesn’t seem to affect them. Various bats in South America can eat plenty of fermenting fruit and show no ill effects. In a study, bats were given alcohol then put through a flying obstacle course, which they passed with flying colours.  

Fruit flies have the option of taking in fermenting juice on a regular basis. Scientists have found, though, that they males are more likely to do so when they have not mated. In fact, the rejected males drank four times more alcohol than those who had mated. 

It isn’t just alcohol that animals seek out. Magic mushrooms are high on the list for reindeer. Dolphins will pass around a puffer fish, which has deadly but intoxicating toxins. Wallabies in Tasmania get loopy after feeding in poppy fields. Big horned sheep in Alberta seek out a narcotic type of lichen to eat. The Amazonian jaguar gnaws on the bark of a hallucinogenic vine that makes them act rather like a cat on cat nip.

So the next time your honey comes home in a taxi after a couple too many? Don’t be angry. They’re following a long tradition in both the human and the animal world. 

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