The cute little fluffy primates may have shot to fame after becoming unwitting YouTube stars (FYI, they're not enjoying being tickled), but now it seems that slow lorises seek out the strong stuff. If given the chance between high and low alcoholic drinks, the doe-eyed creatures have a penchant for imbibing the most potent on offer.
Many an animal like a little tipple every so often. From parrots eating fermented fruit and getting trashed, to monkeys in tourist resorts sunning themselves with a cocktail or three, the consumption of alcohol is not actually that unusual in the animal kingdom. One study even found that chimpanzees in West Africa would habitually raid palm wine plantations specifically to get drunk on the 7 percent wine being fermented, with one male necking 3 liters of the stuff in one sitting.
It seems, then, that the ability to digest alcohol is particularly common, but the efficiency at which different animals do it varies. Alcohol is very calorific, so a good source of energy, but it is also toxic. Previous studies have found that humans and African great apes possess a specific genetic mutation that radically increases alcohol digestion, meaning they benefit from the extra energy, but minimize the negative effects. This mutation is present in the strange looking and evolutionarily primitive aye aye, a type of lemur from Madagascar. And so researchers set out to see if these creatures, along with another primitive primate the slow loris, had a taste for alcohol too.
The aye aye is actually a type of highly adapted lemur, who despite mainly eating grubs, likes to wash it down with a drink or two. David Haring
The researchers looked into whether or not the primates preferred alcohol by offering them a choice between different concentrations of drink ranging from 0 percent to 5 percent, reflecting the concentrations naturally found when the nectar they feed on ferments. The aye ayes continued to probe the most alcoholic beverages long after they’d sunk it all, implying that they wanted more. While there were too few trials to be statistically significant, the slow loris displayed near identical behavior, suggesting similar results.
Considering that the slow loris tends to feed on nectar anyway, the fact that it has a preference for that which contains the highest calories, which in turn is also the most alcoholic, makes some sense. But what about the bizarre looking aye aye? With their overly elongated fingers, and sharp beak-like teeth, they are adapted to seek out and catch grubs in the trunks of trees. “Aye-ayes are essentially primate woodpeckers,” says Nathaniel J. Dominy, who conducted the study published in Royal Society Open Science. “So it is puzzling that they can digest alcohol so efficiently.”
Well, it turns out that while the aye ayes do predominately feast on grubs for most of the year, during the rainy season they spend as much as 20 percent of their feeding time drinking the nectar of the traveler’s trees, a plant native to Madagascar. This means that the ability to digest alcohol quickly would still be beneficial to the peculiar primates, on the off chance that they feed on nectar that has been allowed to ferment.
The results shines a little more light on the origins of alcohol consumption in early humans, showing that our ability to do so, and actual preference for the hard stuff has very ancient origins. “Our results support the idea that fermented foods were important in the diets of our ancestors,” says Samuel Gochman, who co-authored the paper. Whether or not the little creatures had a sore head the following morning, however, is unknown.