Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday 10 April 2014

A Vole Lotta Lovin'

There's more proof this week that science can be fun; a group of researchers decided to host a drunken swingers' party for prairie voles.

In an experiment that follows in the noble tradition of levitating mice, stoned spiders and cinema-going ferrets, the usually monogamous voles were plied with drink in an attempt to establish the effects of alcohol on social relationships.

What is particularly interesting is that the scientists have found that, given a choice between dilute alcohol (essentially vodka) and water, the little furry chaps hit the bottle with relish (or as the study more sedately puts it, 'prairie voles voluntarily self-administer substantial amounts of alcohol').

24 hours later, when all the voles were pleasantly pickled, the scientists removed them from their current partners and set them up on a three-hour blind date with someone new, all the while closely observing their amorous activities.

According to their findings, inebriated females would rather snuggle up to their usual boyfriends for reassurance while drunken males, in an altogether more laid-back fashion, are happy to go out on the pull.

Both sexes tend to get more affectionate with drink, and possibly rather less discriminating too: 'the authors found no evidence that alcohol-related aggression, impaired locomotor activity (e.g. stumbling) or passing out played a role in determining whether two voles became a steady couple.'

I can't help feeling that an observational trip or two to Britain's town centres on a Saturday night would have furnished them with much the same information - though obtaining the requisite brains to dissect for confirmation would have been rather more problematical.

It must, I think, come as something of a shock to the Righteous to discover that, far from being an unnatural and peculiarly human vice, the enthusiastic consumption of alcohol appears to be hardwired into other animals - it's just that only we have yet evolved sufficiently to invent the off-licence.

1 comment:

  1. "...though obtaining the requisite brains to dissect for confirmation would have been rather more problematical."

    Oh, I don't know. The lab assistants wouldn't get so attached.


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