The holidays are time for seeing family and feeling thankful for the gifts in your life. They're a time for indulging on a bit more dessert than you really should. They're also for getting properly hammered so you can bear to hear the story, yet again, of when Uncle Clifford caught that giant catfish, which seems to get bigger and stronger ever time you hear it.
Lucky for you, you're in good company. Humans aren't the only ones who like to become a bit lubricated from time to time.
Cedar waxwings getting drunk on tiny berries
Cedar waxwings survive by eating fruit. Because fruit is more likely to contain toxins than other foods, fruit-eating birds tend to have large livers that are equipped to process whatever ethanol is inside that fruit before it causes a serious problem. At least, that's how it's supposed to work. But cedar waxwings have an oesophagus designed to store up so much fruit that they can gobble up two meals' worth of berries in a single foraging trip. When the fruit sits there in the oesophagus waiting to be digested, it can start to ferment. And if there are enough fermenting berries, they can produce more ethanol than the bird's liver is prepared to break down. And that leads to, well, drunken waxwings. "The cause of death in these birds," concluded veterinarian Hailu Kinde, of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory in a 2012 article in the Journal of Ornithology about an epidemic of drunk waxwings in Los Angeles "was trauma that resulted from colliding with hard objects when flying under the influence of ethanol."
Bohemian waxwings in the drunk tank
And some Canadian towns have recently had to deal with a similar phenomenon in bohemian waxwings. According to a local news outlet in the city of Whitehorse, drunk waxwings were apparently turning up with beaks "stained red with mountain ash berry juice: a strong sign that they had been flying while imbibing". Governmental wildlife officials had to improvise when concerned citizens turned up with drunken birds, so they turned some empty hamster cages into makeshift drunk tanks. Once the birds had sobered up, they were allowed to return to the wild. The only question is whether the birds were getting tipsy on purpose, or whether it was just an accidental byproduct of overindulging on juicy mountain ash berries.
Vervet monkeys are native to Africa, but small colonies have become established on islands throughout the Caribbean. When slave ships landed in the New World, monkeys that had been kept as pets by sailors came along for the ride. In the Caribbean, free from most natural predators, they settled into tropical life quite well. And now that tourists have taken to the Caribbean as well, the monkeys have developed quite a taste for their boozy, fruity, colourful drinks – which they steal from unsuspecting humans. According to one study, nearly twenty percent of the island monkeys prefer an alcoholic concoction to a drink of sugar water. On the plus side, their penchant for becoming sloshed makes it easier for people to catch them. All it takes is a bit of rum.
Wallabies living the high life
It's not just liquor that's attractive to animals. Some wallabies, apparently, like to get high. Several years ago, the marsupials were getting into poppy fields that were being cultivated for their use in medicine (Australia produces about half of the world's legal opium, which is often used in painkillers). At a parliamentary hearing on poppy crops, Lara Giddings, attorney general for the state of Tasmania, said: "We have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite and going around in circles…then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high." And now we know where crop circles come from.
Dogs getting stoned ... on toads
Australia is clearly home to the most addicted animals on the planet. According to some reports, some domestic dogs there have learned to lick the sweat off the backs of cane toads. Yum. It's hard to say whether the dogs are actually hallucinating, but in small doses the poisonous secretions of the cane toads appear to be hallucinogenic. Of course, some dogs become a bit too easily addicted and have to be treated by veterinarians for cane toad poisoning. Speaking to the Courier-Mail, Jonathon Cochrane from the University of Queensland School of Veterinary Science said that some of the poisoned dogs he's seen "do stargaze or track something across the room that isn't there and others just stare out of the cage while we're monitoring them". Which indeed sounds a lot like they're tripping out to me. Not that I would know.
Sorry, Elephants don't get drunk
Unfortunately, there's one fable we have to shatter. According to legend, African elephants like to munch on the fermenting fruits of the marula tree. According to the Zulu tradition, the elephants, especially the males, tend to become quite aggressive after a night out getting plastered on marula fruits. The tales of drunken marauding elephants are so well known that Amarula, a liqueur made from marula fruits, has an elephant on the label. Sadly, it's near impossible for an elephant to get drunk. A trio of physiologists did the math. "A 3000 kilogram elephant would require the ingestion of between 10 and 27 litres of 7% ethanol in a short period to overtly affect behaviour, which is unlikely in the wild," they reason. Even assuming the most liberal estimates for the amount of ethanol in a fermenting marula fruit, a single elephant would barely even come close to half that amount in a single feeding session. They could probably do it if given free reign at a liquor store, though.
Top header image: Jean-Marc Linder, Flickr