Drunken monkeys might be a new hit at the local bar or perhaps a struggling teenage punk rock band.
But this is about real drunken monkeys, the kind that are presumed to lurch through the forest after eating certain fermenting fruits.
A University of California at Berkeley professor has advanced what is being called the Drunken Monkey Hypothesis in which he suggests that humans are genetically disposed to ethanol. Fruit, particularly in the tropics, frequently ferments and produces ethanol, a type of drinking alcohol.
The professor, Robert Dudley, outlined his ideas in a 2004 academic article and a 2005 book.
But no one has really discussed the topic with monkeys.
The health benefits of low-level alcohol consumption are consistent with an ancient and potentially adaptive exposure to this common, psychoactive substance, suggests the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The institute is where another California professor and a graduate student are testing this hypothesis.
The institute identified her as Christina Campbell, associate professor of anthropology at California State University Northridge. She has been studying spider monkeys since 1996 and will be checking the alcohol content of Spondias mombin, a mango relative extremely important in the monkeys’ diet, said the institute.
They will be in the field attempting to get samples of the fruit and from the monkeys for more than a year, the institute said.
There may not yet be a drunken monkey on the bar menu, but there is a spider monkey, a drink made with creme de banana, Kahlua and ice cream.
Dudley has said via the academic literature that understanding the primate’s attraction to alcohol might be important to understanding human abuse of liquor.
Frank Buck, the famous early 20th century animal collector, has reported that natives in Asia used to capture powerful adult orangutans by making available in the jungle large tubs of alcohol. The orangutan quickly gulped down the drink and collapsed into a drunken sleep, thus making capture easy.
Primates have been eating fermented fruit for 40 million years, said the Smithsonian. That means ingesting alcohol may give some kind of evolutionary advantage to the drinker. That’s a good excuse, anyway.