Monkey See, Monkey Brew

By Dirk Hanson 03/27/11
Happy hour in St. Kitts. Photo via direct-2you

Travelers headed to the sandy shores of St. Kitts this spring are advised to keep a close eye on 
their daiquiri (virgin or not): the island’s liquor-loving monkeys, known as vervets, are prone to swooping down on alcoholic drinks left momentarily unattended. The monkeys, originally imported to the island by pirates, were introduced to the tantalizing effects of umbrella-laden mojitos and shots of tequila by tourists a few decades ago. Not surprisingly, they developed a heavy hankering for it. A team of scientists spent two years studying the effects of alcohol on the island’s primates, and found unsettling similarities between the behavior of alcohol-addled monkeys and their human counterparts. It seems that while most monkeys are either teetotalers or "social drinkers," a large minority demonstrate clear alcoholic tendencies. According to a report by ABC News, the scientists were surprised to discover that messed-up monkeys engaged in many of the same behaviors as Duke frat boys—slurred speech, unprovoked hostility, binge drinking, blackouts, and obnoxious sexual behavior. However, those man/monkey messups may not be so surprising after all—given that vervets share more than 96% of their genetic makeup with people. And just like overindulging humans, the morning after isn’t a treat for the vervets, either. One researcher told the UK Telegraph: "The binge drinkers gulp down the alcohol at a very fast rate and pass out on the floor. Then the next day they do it all over again." Sound familiar?

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]