Did you know that in Panama, black-handed spider monkeys like fruits high in ethanol? Many think this demonstrates how humans’ love of liquor developed over time.
The “drunken monkey” hypothesis is one that implies that our love of alcohol derives from our primate ancestors’ eating habits, which may be substantiated by recent studies that have been published in the scientific journal Royal Society Open Science.
The study suggests that human beings’ propensity for alcohol consumption may result from our ancestral predecessors’ eating habits.
The concept, which was first advanced by biologist Robert Dudley of the University of California, Berkeley, assumes that animals that fruit as part of their diets are more inclined to consume somewhat overripe fruits because they contain a larger sugar content and more calories.
However, because of the sugar’s propensity to ferment, overripe fruit could generate ethanol, which might cause these animals to eat alcoholic fruits.
Animals from all around the animal kingdom have been seen to ingest ethanol-rich fruit, but it is unknown if non-human primates can metabolize alcohol to absorb its calories. Dudley and his colleagues traveled to Barro Colorado Island in Panama to do research there because it is home to native spider monkeys that frequently consume the delicious fruit of the jobo tree.
The pulp of half-consumed fruit that foraging monkeys left behind contained a range of 1 to 2 percent ethanol, proving that these monkeys do, in fact, prefer alcoholic fruits.
Researchers gathered urine specimens from six hunting spider monkeys to enhance their research, and they discovered that five of these six contained alcohol metabolites in their urine. This verified their original skepticism about whether these animals could digest alcohol and obtain its calories.
Although the Panamanian monkeys don’t drink enough ethanol to get intoxicated, Dudley said that the fact that they do suggests that “human ancestors may similarly have preferentially picked ethanol-laden fruit for ingestion” because of its calorific content.
In essence, Dudley was saying that we may have developed a fondness for alcohol because we descended from fruit-eating, alcoholic primates that sought out fermented sugar for a higher caloric value.
Our present fondness for alcohol has turned us into true drunken monkeys, even though our early primate relatives may have benefited from this affection in certain ways.
Alcoholism has clearly become a major public health issue, and while our natural tendencies are not enough to justify our problem, they do provide a useful starting point for figuring out effective solutions.
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