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Alcoholic Insects

March 13, 2013

Fruit flies sometimes marinate their young in alcohol to protect them from parasitic wasps.



Alcoholic baby fruit-flies.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Fruit flies sometimes protect their developing offspring – by soaking them in alcohol.  That’s the conclusion of Emory University geneticist Todd Schlenke and his colleagues. Schlenke notes that fruit flies eat fermented fruit, so they’re quite tolerant of alcohol. But tiny, parasitic wasps, which prey on the flies, are not.  Previously, his team found that fruit fly larvae actually self-medicate with alcohol to kill wasp eggs inside them.

TODD SCHLENKE (Emory University):

In the current paper, we’re showing that adult flies, when they sense parasites in their environment, will change where they lay their eggs.  And they’ll start laying their eggs in more alcoholic environments, which protects their larvae.

Schlenke says there’s a cost to this strategy, since eggs laid in high-alcohol environments produce 20 percent fewer healthy adults.  But clearly, in some circumstances, that must be less destructive than the wasps.  Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Fruit flies douse their offspring with alcohol to protect them from parasitic wasps. (Sanjay Acharya/Wikipedia)