The “drunken monkey” hypothesis posits that attraction to ethanol derives from an evolutionary linkage among the sugars of ripe fruit, associated alcoholic fermentation by yeast, and ensuing consumption by human ancestors. First proposed in 2000, this concept has received increasing attention from the fields of animal sensory biology, primate foraging behavior, and molecular evolution. We undertook a review of English language citations subsequent to publication of the original paper and assessed research trends and future directions relative to natural dietary ethanol exposure in primates and other animals. Two major empirical themes emerge: attraction to and consumption of fermenting fruits (and nectar) by numerous vertebrates and invertebrates (e.g., Drosophila
flies), and genomic evidence for natural selection consistent with sustained exposure to dietary ethanol in diverse taxa (including hominids and the genus Homo
) over tens of millions of years. We also describe our current field studies in Uganda of ethanol content within fruits consumed by free-ranging chimpanzees, which suggest chronic low-level exposure to this psychoactive molecule in our closest living relatives.
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