John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
hich animal drinks the most?
The biggest boozer after man is the pen-tailed tree shrew of Malaysia.
a rat-size animal with a tail shaped like a quillpen, gets through nine units of alcohol a night (the equivalent of nine single whiskies, ﬁve pints of beer, or ﬁve 5.9-ounce [175-milliliter] glasses of wine).Its staple diet is nectar from the ﬂowers of the bertam palm(
), which ferments as a result of natural yeasts inthe plant’s spiky buds. This brew weighs in at 3.8 percent ABV(alcohol by volume)—about the strength of a decent pale ale—andthe pen-tailed tree shrew spends an average of two hours a nightsipping it.The nectar of the bertam palm is among the most alcoholic of any naturally occurring food. German researchers from the Uni-versity of Bayreuth were ﬁrst alerted to the presence of alcohol inthe plant by its wafting, yeasty aroma and what looked very muchlike a foamy “head” on the nectar.Analysis of the tree shrew’s hair revealed blood-alcohol lev-els that would be dangerous in most mammals, but it never getsdrunk. If it did, it wouldn’t have lasted long as a species. Beingsmall and edible makes for a tough enough life, but being small,edible, and permanently confused would be fatal.The pen-tailed tree shrew has somehow evolved to break downthe alcohol without becoming intoxicated, and it may also havebeneﬁted from the so-called aperitif effect. First noted in humans,this is the fact that alcohol stimulates the appetite, so we eat more.The higher an animal’s caloric intake, the more energy it hasand the more likely it is to survive. As the pen-tailed tree shrewappears to have discovered, the smell of fermentation in a fruitindicates that it has reached its peak caloriﬁc level.