Monday, July 28, 2008

Animal of the Week -- July 28, 2008

I suppose that the name "Animal of the Week" doesn't necessarily imply there has to be an animal every week, just that when there is one, that's the animal of that week. And a week is pretty much undefined, there's the strict Monday to Sunday concept, but then any group of seven adjacent days is also a week. So the animal of this week is Ptilocercus lowii (pen-tail tree shrew).

Now, as someone who is not averse to the odd jar myself -- I was impressed to read in the newspapers earlier this week that these diminutive distant relatives also actively seek out alcohol and drink enough to be drunk 36% of the time. In the forests of Thailand and Malaysia they are to be found supping on fermented nectar from the flowers of bertam palms. However, the reasearch, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA shows that rather than get drunk, the alcohol is disposed of in the tree shrews' hair as a chemical that is also found in the hair of humans with chronic alcoholism [those that have hair, eh? -- Ed][Shut it you! And who the hell is this ed anyway? -- PH].

Thought to be similar to the last common ancestor of all primates that lived about 55 million years ago, pen tail tree shrews, named for their mostly naked tail fringed with lateral hairs like a quill on the last third, are the only nocturnal tree shrews. If disturbed during the day they are sluggish, responding by rolling on their back, hissing, urinating, and defecating in defence. I think the researchers who say these critters aren't affected by the booze had better think again.

Much has been made of their prodigious alcohol consumption -- but it turns out the nectar of the bertam palm is only 0.5–3.8% alcohol. It's hardly a bottle of tanqueray now is it? I'll let them off though, at only 50g, they're definitely not lightweights

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