“Booze up, Kids!! It’s REALLY good for you.”

Which parents in the world will encourage babies to booze?

Those in the animal world, that is.   Don’t be deceived!  It’s not a ‘chill out’ session for the young.  Rather, it’s a necessary evil to make sure the young survive when alcohol can actually become toxic to them, according to the scientists at the Schlenke lab.  The young of the common fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster, get soaked in alcohol-rich food when their parents sense that the enemy is lurking around.

                                         The common fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster)
Image from NASA (http://quest.nasa.gov/projects/flies/images/sm1.jpg)

Kacsoh and fellow scientists at the lab, who released the report in the journal Science on Februrary 22, shared that the adult fruit flies are on alert when parasitic female wasps are nearby.  These wasps lay their eggs in the fruit fly larvae and when the young wasps hatch, they feed on the young flies.  Not surprising that the adult flies spring into action when they see female wasps while sightings of male wasps cause hardly a stir.

How DO the adult flies lay their hands on alcohol?  Nature does it.  Using what can be found in nature for protection or healing isn’t a novel idea.  Animals, and human beings alike, use their finds in nature for survial.  The young flies are ‘immunised’ by feeding on fermenting fruit which produces alcohol.   Unlike the flies, alcohol proves to be deadly to the wasps which have low tolerance of its toxic effects.   When the alcohol level increases in the blood of the fly larvae, wasps living in the blood cannot survive.  The report states that 90% fruit flies chose to lay eggs in alcohol when exposed to female wasps compared to a mere 40% in the absence of such wasps.  What a difference!

Simply put, one insect’s drug is another insect’s poison.

Literature cited:

Primary Sources

Emory Health Sciences, 2013. Fruit flies force their young to drink alcohol for their own good. ScienceDaily, 22 February 2013. URL: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130222102958.htm (accessed 30 Mar 2013).

Kacsoh, B. Z, Lynch, Z. R, Mortimer, N. T. and Schlenke, T. A. 2013. Fruit flies medicate offspring after seeing parasites. Science, 339 (6122): 947.


Secondary source

Huffman, M.A. 2003.  Animal self-medication and ethno-medicine: exploration and exploitation of the medicinal properties of plants.  Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 62 (2): 371-381.