Dartmouth study with aye-ayes and slow loris finds that prosimians prefer alcohol

From Dartmouth College:

Alcohol is widespread in nature, existing in fermented nectars, saps and fruits. It is therefore a natural part of many primate diets, and it follows that primates have evolved to digest alcohol quickly to minimize toxic effects. But given that alcohol is also a source of calories, it is plausible that alcohol is attractive to some primates, including, hypothetically, our human ancestors. In fact, previous research found that humans and African great apes have a genetic mutation that radically accelerates alcohol digestion. However, this mutation is also shared with the aye-aye, one of the oddest animals on Earth. The question, then, is whether aye-ayes are attracted to alcohol. In the first controlled study of its kind, Dartmouth researchers found that two aye-ayes and another prosimian primate (a slow loris) could discriminate different concentrations of alcohol, and further, that each species preferred the highest concentrations of alcohol available to them. The findings of this Dartmouth study will be published in the open-access journal, “Royal Society Open Science.” (A pdf of the study is available upon request).

The aye-aye is a nocturnal lemur endemic to Madagascar with a lineage dating back nearly 70 million years. They have an elongated, bony finger for detecting and extracting grubs from decaying tree trunks. “Aye-ayes are essentially primate woodpeckers” said Nathaniel J. Dominy, a professor of anthropology and biological sciences at Dartmouth. “So it is puzzling that they can digest alcohol so efficiently” he added. In the wet season, however, aye-ayes devote as much as 20 percent of their feeding time to the nectar of the traveler’s tree, a primitive plant from Madagascar. “If the nectar is fermented, then the hyper-efficient alcohol digestion would make ecological sense” reasoned Samuel Gochman, a Dartmouth student and lead author of the study. “Since we …

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