Get the children drunk to keep them safe!

This sneaky predator (Leptopilina heterotoma) can not hold his liquor as well as the ordinary fruit fly.

This sneaky predator (Leptopilina heterotoma) can not hold his liquor as well as the ordinary fruit fly.

Let’s have another example of how cool science can be. The conclusions based on this research already date back from early 2012. Nevertheless it’s cool enough to mention. Like the experiment that proves rejection in love leads to alcohol consumption again fruit flies are involved. It shows how alcohol plays an important role to save this small creature from extermination. 

They look so careless, those tiny flies that turn up everywhere near ripe and fermenting fruit. Until now you probably found them dirty and highly annoying when they charge on your plums, peaches or grapes. But next time you will understand that this is a basic survival technique from the fruit fly. The main enemy from this fly is a small wasp (Leptopilina heterotoma) that parasitizes on the fruit fly’s maggots. It lays it’s own egg inside the larva, after which the young wasp eats the young fly from within, until it’s big enough to leave the dying body of it’s host.

A cruel scenario that would terminate the many fruit fly lives if it wasn’t for alcohol. It turns out that fruit flies are way better ‘drinkers’ than their nemeses. That’s why they turn to fermented fruit to lay their eggs. Biologist Todd Schlenke from the Emory University in the United States did an interesting experiment. His conclusion was: in order to kill their parasites, the flies get drunk. He noticed this first when he was studying normal fruit flies. Fermented fruit can contain higher percentages than a beer bottle.

In his experiment he set wasps free on two groups of fruit fly maggots. One on alcohol-free food and one on food that contained 6 percent of alcohol. First of all the wasps laid 60% less eggs in the presence of alcohol. Probably because the strong fumes. Dr. Schlenke stated that ‘presumably the wasps felt really ill’.

But that wasn’t the end of the strength of this self-defense mechanism. All the baby wasps inside the flies on the alcohol-free food grew normally. Meaning they killed all the fly larvae. However, inside the drunk maggots 65% of the wasps died, cause they couldn’t handle the liquor. They died in a horrifying way, since they pooped out their own guts. Schlenke: “All their guts are outside the wasps. I don’t know how to explain that.”

After seeing the effect of alcohol on the natural enemies of the fruit flies, Schlenke wondered if the flies were smart enough to look for this safe environment. He set them free on petri dishes, with on one side alcohol and on the other alcohol-free food. 30 percent of the flies laid their eggs on the side with alcohol. Not that much. But one day later he repeated the experiment, but this time he added the wasps. This time 80% of the flies chose for alcohol. A solid difference of 50%. And well, the remaining 20% was probably to drunk anyway to pay proper attention to their kids. This experiment was proof enough for Schlenke to draw the conclusion that the flies deliberately search for alcohol when they spot enemies: “They know the wasps are infecting them, and they seek out the alcohol. The flies self-medicate by getting drunk.”

Now for everyone that thinks now that wasps are huge sissies, there is one kind that actually does slightly better: the Leptopilina Boulardi. Where 65% of the Leptopilina Heterotoma kids didn’t survive, only 10% of their cousins died. According to Schlenke this is because of evolution of the wasps. We see only one solution for the fruit fly to survive: switch to even harder stuff.

The American biologist didn’t want to draw any conclusions where it came to humans, parasites and alcohol. However we’ll draw our own ones. Alcohol is great stuff to kill all kinds of little bugs trying to feast in your body. So flush your body at least once a week with a nice amount of booze.

Micky Bumbar

More posts on alcohol and science

One thought on “Get the children drunk to keep them safe!

  1. Pingback: 11 funny pictures of drunk animals | Lords of the Drinks

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