Do Monkeys Get Drunk? These Scientists Found Out.

An especially challenging type of research

Do humans have an evolutionary reason for drinking alcohol?
Jared Rice/Unsplash

Plenty of humans enjoy the experience of drinking alcohol. It does beg one question, though: is there a scientific reason for this? In his 2014 book The Drunken Monkey, Robert Dudley ventured deeply into history to find an answer to this question.

“The argument here is that our attraction to alcohol goes back about 18 million years, to the origin of the great apes, if not 45 million years with the origin of diurnal fruit-eating primates,” Dudley said in an interview around the time of his book’s release. It’s a compelling hypothesis, with one challenge to other scientists — how do you go about proving it?

Now, that question has an answer, and it involves a host of research that sounds at times like an outtake from Jackass. Or, to put it more bluntly, it involved scientists repeatedly risking being urinated on by spider monkeys. The path to knowledge can be a challenging one, that’s for sure.

A new article at Atlas Obscura chronicles the effort of a group of scientists to explore the drinking habits of spider monkeys. As California State University, Northridge’s Christina Campbell described it, this included finding fruit discarded by the monkeys and collecting urine samples from them. The latter proved especially hazardous.

“You might be watching one particular monkey and not realize that there’s another one directly above you and so we would fairly regularly get pooped on and peed on,” Campbell told Atlas Obscura.

As Campbell, Dudley and their co-authors on a new paper found, the monkeys are indeed consuming and metabolizing ethanol. Expanding humanity’s knowledge of the world and our origins can be risky, but knowledge offers its own rewards.


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