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Alcoholic Tree Shrews

August 18, 2008

A small mammal drinks alcohol without becoming intoxicated.


An animal that thrives on alcohol….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Some people drink for pleasure, others to forget their problems, but no one drinks just to survive. But it turns out some animals do! Pound-for-pound, the Malaysian pen-tailed tree shrew can drink most people under the table. This according to Frank Wiens, a nutritional ecologist at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. He and his team recently discovered that the diminutive mammal spends more than two hours every night licking the fermented nectar of the Bertram palm.

FRANK WIENS (University of Bayreuth, Germany):
And the nectar contains up to 3.8% alcohol. That’s in the range of a beer.

Even though alcohol makes up a large part of their diet, he says that unlike us, the tree shrews don’t seem to get drunk. He thinks they probably metabolize alcohol more efficiently than we do, and could serve as a model for understanding alcoholism in humans. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.