STRANGE BUT TRUE- Skunk drunk: Animals like to tipple too


Q. If alcohol can turn a man into a beast, what does it do to the beasts? –J. Daniels

A. Insects feeding on wine grapes in vineyards can become intoxicated on the fermentations, reports Ronald K. Siegel in Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise.

* Bumblebees, hornets, and wasps will lose their coordination and become temporarily grounded after ingesting fermented fruits.

* In earlier times, illegal stills were sometimes traced by the trail of tipsy livestock that had sniffed out the mash.

* African villagers have been known to rid themselves of rodents by leaving out bowls of milk and beer, then rounding up the woozy pests in the morning.

* Parrots are said to become more talkative after eating fermented fruits or sipping alcoholic beverages. "The birds stop talking and drinking only after they fall over," says Siegel. One dealer in rare birds overdosed his parrots on tequila to quiet them for smuggling across the Mexican border.

* Herd-feeding elephants, afraid they won't get their fair share of fermented fruit, will at times gorge themselves into swaying inebriation.

* One dog that lived near a brewery got to where it would often drink beer instead of eating.

* If an experimental "bar" is opened for monkeys on a 24-hour basis, they'll go into binge and abstinence cycles, much like addicted people.

Q. It had a reputation as an aphrodisiac, was used to treat tuberculosis, and as a pesticide in agriculture. Swiss mountain climbers once consumed it believing it gave them strength. For many years its toxicity went unrecognized, but today it's known that as little as 1/10th of a gram can be lethal in some forms. Poisoning is cumulative, with tiny amounts from tap water building up until physical symptoms emerge. In some areas of the world, quantities leaching into village wells have caused skin lesions and cancer in hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. Bizarrely, though, there is a group of indigenous villagers in Chile who, for generations, apparently have been drinking water laced with dangerous levels of the substance but show no signs of cancer. Can you name this puzzling element? –J. Hong

A. Arsenic, says Stanford chemist James Collman in Naturally Dangerous. Its famous forensic possibilities, as in the dark comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, have been largely undercut by modern scientific methods for detecting it in minute amounts, even in a single strand of hair, says John Emsley in The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison. "Hair grows at a fairly constant rate so that, for example, a high arsenic level at 0.5 mm from the root shows the person was given the poison 14 days previously."

Q. Does your phone voice tip off your age? –A.G. Bell

A. Bad news for you sensitively superannuated guys– it likely does. Pitch begins to rise after about age 45 or 50, often accompanied by a slower speech rate, says Marquette University's Sue Ellen Linville in Discover Magazine.

Not much you can do about physical changes in the voice box, lungs, mouth and throat. Muscles may atrophy, tissues stiffen, membranes dry out, making vocal cord vibrations unstable and altering resonance.

Gals, whatever your age, your speaking pitch stays about the same from young adulthood to middle age, with only a slight lowering at menopause, though some huskiness and volumetric weakening can undermine your relative anonymity.

Both guys and gals, one thing you can try is to talk a little faster (spryer) for "youthful" dramatic effect. For a real disguise, you'd need to attach some sort of electronic filter or masking modulator to the phone. Beats a surgical "voicelift" (like a "facelift"), right? Better still, just let your wise old words shine on through!

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.

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