Drug use by animals?

Douglas Fitts dfitts at u.washington.edu
Sun Jan 19 02:00:40 EST 1997

Laurie Davison <ldavison at pop.uky.edu> writes:

>adinas at aol.com (AdinaS) wrote:
>>In article <32DC0D41.2F07 at biologie.uni-regensburg.de>, a rose
>><andreas.rose at biologie.uni-regensburg.de> wrote:
>>Are there any published reports of animals in the wild habitually using 
>>drugs (i.e. plants that contain intoxicating substances)? 

>> There are many reports of birds and mammals eating fermenting fruit,
and thus becoming "drunk." 

>   I know that many mammals "will" eat fermenting fruit, but I don't know 
>that they "seek it out"... In the case of the birds, a behavior known as 
>"anting" mistakenly led scientists and others to believe that birds liked 
>alchohol. This was supported by observations that if you left a glass of 

Glad to see this skeptical response!

Most rodents will drink plain old alcohol if you give it to them in the
right concentration (we all have our preferred mixes, no?).  Lab rats
prefer dilute solutions of alcohol to water.  Do they get drunk?  No. 
Blood alcohol levels rarely rise into what we consider the intoxicating
range.  They drink it for calories and a bit of a change from the old lab

Golden hamsters, on the other hand, *really* like the stuff.  They'll
drink all their daily fluid intake from a 10% alcohol bottle with water
freely available.  They've been known to consume measurable quantities
of alcohol up to 50-70%.  Rats won't touch it above about 10%.

Do hamsters get drunk?  No.  The alcohol dehydrogenase and other alcohol
degradative enzymes in the rat liver are much faster than in a human, but
the enzymes in a hamster are 3 times faster than that.  Again, blood
alcohol levels never rise into the range that we would call intoxicating,
and you can't observe any overt signs of ataxia, etc.

Hamsters hoard grain.  In fact, when it's available, that's about all they
do.  They hoard huge amounts of it in burrows.  Dark, damp burrows, little
microclimates of Seattle in the midst of the Syrian and Israeli deserts.
When the famine comes, the hamsters live off this hoard.  Probably, the
very fast detoxification and the alcohol preference evolved in unison.

The publications are many and easy to find.


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