Monkey business

When monkeys drink beer

When monkeys drink beer

drinking monkeys

The life of a modern day monkey

Sometimes when you get completely off our face we can act like a monkey, but what happens when a monkey acts drunk?

Well there have been two recent studies into monkeys and drink, where scientists gave monkeys massive quantities of alcohol, all free! Bastards! Yes this is what scientists get up to these days. Lucky monkeys you might say, but anyway, let’s have a look at these very important studies.

STUDY NUMBER ONE: The search for the ‘alcohol gene’

Scientists have discovered that monkeys, just like the humans, those other primates, also have developed a taste for alcohol – and behave in a similar fashion when under its influence.

St Kitts and Nevis islands

St Kitts islands

Research into their drinking habits was carried out on the Caribbean island of St Kitts on a group of green Vervets. The Vervets were introduced to the island in the 17th century when they were brought over with slaves from Africa. St Kitts was chosen for the project because the wild Vervets had established a liking for alcohol from the fermented sugar cane lying around aplenty in the fields of the rum-producing island.  In their hunt for alcohol, they’ve learned to steal alcohol from bars, hotels and napping tourists. Scientists are using the monkeys – which share 96 per cent of their genetic make-up with humans – to help to search for clues to the nature of human drinking and to discover whether some people have an alcohol genes in their hereditary makeup.

See Video (might be blocked in some countries, drat!)

The scientists took 1000 vervet monkeys and plied them with alcohol, kept them in a social group and directed research into their drinking habits. Leading the experiments were Frank Ervin, a professor of psychiatry, and Roberta Palmour, a professor of human genetics, both from McGill University in Montreal.

Unfortunately for the monkeys the experiments were not set in the local pub but in controlled cages, where they were given a choice of non-alcoholic, diluted alcoholic and neat drinks. They found that the monkeys’ drinking behaviours were oddly similar to humans: that the animals split into four core categories: binge drinker, steady drinker, social drinker and teetotaller

Social drinkers: The majority of the monkeys, drank in moderation and only when they are in the company of other monkeys and not before lunch, prefer their alcohol to be diluted with fruit juice.

Regular drinkers: Fifteen per cent of the monkeys were regular drinkers and prefer their alcohol neat or diluted with water not sweetened or watered down with fruit juice: Funnily enough steady drinkers do very well in social groups, and are good leaders. They keep order well and they’re very dominant. This type of alcoholic monkey is a very efficient animal.  In human terms Winston Churchill perhaps!

Teetotallers: Fifteen percent of the monkeys prefer little or no alcohol. Bastards!

Binge drinkers: Five per cent are classed as “seriously abusive binge drinkers”.  They drink fast, fight and devour as much as they can until losing consciousness. As in humans, most heavy drinkers are young males, but monkeys of both sexes and all ages like to drink. If this group has unobstructed access to alcohol, they will drink themselves to death within 2/3 months. What makes them different to the regular drinkers is not the quantity of alcohol intake, both can be high, but in the way they drink, their drinking patterns.

So what does this experiment prove? Prof Ervin said: “The parallels between the Vervets’ behaviour and human behaviour are striking. A cageful of drunken monkeys is like a cocktail party. You have one who gets aggressive, one who gets sexy, one who thinks everything’s funny and one who gets really grumpy. The binge drinkers gulp down the alcohol at a very fast rate and pass out on the floor. The next day they do it all over again.”

Monkeys drinking beer

On the piss

So just like humans, monkeys abuse alcohol, and suffer all the negative effects that booze can bring to society – idleness, violence, theft, no frills sex, and the rest.  Additionally, the study shows vervet monkeys’ alcohol use has a genetic component. For many years, alcoholism in humans was thought to be purely a learned behaviour — the result of environmental factors. But this study, and others like it, indicate that in humans, alcohol addiction has a genetic component: it has a tendency to run in families. Daddy monkey passes it down to the little ones.

Man is said to have started drinking alcohol in prehistoric times when scouring the forest for sweet fruit, man liked what he tasted when the fruit fermented and reacted with natural yeasts. Is this one reason why we developed our brains, developed a creativity and deep understanding of life? Is this how first early music/paintings started? Or dare I say it religion. I mean you have to be off your rocker to believe in talking snakes and the like.  Is it only a matter of time before the Vervets start penning some tunes? Maybe the scientists could have given them some typewriters when they were crammed into them cages? Only saying like!

STUDY NUMBER TWO: Boozing adolescent monkeys’ reveal how binge-drinking harms the adolescent brain.

Binge drinking is increasing amongst the youths, and new research has shown long-lasting damage to an important area in the brain after excessive alcohol consumption, suggesting binge drinking could seriously affect the memories of adolescents. Post-mortems of binge-drinking adolescent monkeys have produced the best evidence yet that heavy drinking at an early age can do lasting damage to the brain. Monkey and human brains develop in the same way, so the finding suggests that similar effects may occur in human teenagers.

Scientists and a team of researchers at the Scripps Research Institute at La Jolla, California led by Chitra D. Mandyam intended to determine the negative effects of binge alcohol consumption on the hippocampus area of the brains of adolescent macaque monkeys. The hippocampus, not hippopotamus, is necessary for short and long term memory, impulse control and ability to make decisions. The hippocampus is moreover a place where the adult brain can produce new brain cells.

The research team observed a group of seven male adolescent monkeys, given alcohol over a period of time that increased from potency of 1% to 6% over the first 40 days, getting them drunk, while the scientists studied their brain development. The percentage of alcohol increased from 1% to 6%, over a period of 40 days. At the end of the first 40 days, three monkeys were taken off alcohol, given non-alcoholic drinks instead. Four monkeys, however, continued to receive the brew containing 6% alcohol for an hour per day for 11 months. .

“Monkeys love to drink. They’re like humans,” Mandyam says. These four monkeys were intoxicated daily with a fairly high blood alcohol level (BAL) limit of 0.1 to 0.3 (roughly 10/12 bottles of beer). For the last two months of the research, no alcohol was given to the four monkeys who had received alcoholic cocktails for 11 months before slicing up the animals and examining their brains. Nice.

The results showed that the binge drinking monkeys had a dramatic decrease in stem cells in the hippocampus region and decreased development of new neurons.

“You’re messing with brain plasticity,” Mandyam said, and if the cells are subdued in adolescence, the chances of normal brain cell production later in life are reduced. It is “very devastating to see what binge drinking does to the brains of adolescents”

“What is important for the public to know is that this type of drinking can kill off stem cells.” This loss could result in damage to memory and spatial skills, she adds. Mandyam thinks that this degeneration could have long-term effects and provide a mechanism for why bingeing teens are more likely to develop alcohol dependence as adults. “It’s also important to recognize that binge drinking may produce adverse consequences on the brain regardless of age.”

Monkeys drinking beer

Hangover cure?

Monkey’s brains are extremely similar to humans so it is believed that the findings of this study are likely to be true in human adolescents as well. Adolescents who binge drink on a regular basis, could be causing severe, long-lasting damage to the neural stem cells in their brain. Damage to these cells may potentially cause difficulty with memory and could lead to mental illness. Results of the research imply that the long-term negative effects of binge drinking on an adolescent’s brain could be as serious as believed, if not more.

It has to be made clear though that these monkeys drank roughly about 10-12 bottles of beer daily, every week for a total of just under a year. I repeat DAILY! That is some caveat! No wonder their brains were mush!!!!

Also animal welfare groups condemned the experiments. Plying animals with alcohol in the name of science is irresponsible the argument goes. Better than as part of meal or a new coat? Could be worse me thinks. I am also guessing that if they had asked to use humans they wouldn’t have had a problem finding willing participants for an experiment like this, all in the name of advancing science,


Edmundo and his pet monkey

Edmundo and monkey

Of course when someone mentions monkeys and alcohol to me I immediately remember Edmundo, the “Animal”, the nutcase who used to be play football and was a regular for the Brazilian national team.

The striker threw a party in Rio to mark his son’s first birthday, hiring a chimp and two elephants from a local circus to increase the fun. Edmundo did his own experiment, giving the monkey beer and whisky, almost killing the poor thing with alcohol poison. This landed him in hot water when a paper printed pictures of this act. The animal rights group were in furore, and he was brought to court, fined $1,000 and narrowly avoided six months prison time.

 Sources and links: 

R.M. Palmour and F.R. Ervin.

Alcohol consumption in vervet monkeys: biological correlates and factor analysis of behavioural patterns.

Chitra D. Mandyam, Michael A. Taffe, Roxanne W. Kotzebue, Rebecca D. Crean, Elena F. Crawford, Scott Edwards

Long-lasting reduction in hippocampal neurogenesis by alcohol consumption in adolescent nonhuman primates


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Beer drinker and all round annoyance. Likes drinking, football, cricket and having a good time.

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