Flies and booze: strictly for medicinal purposes

By Carl Zimmer | February 16, 2012 12:15 pm

One mission of the Loom is to champion unjustly neglected forms of life. And so I spend a lot of time blogging about the sinister powers of parasites. But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that hosts are simply helpless bags of grub. Hosts have evolved defenses to ward off parasites, and those defenses can be just as baroque and marvelous as the adaptations of their parasites.

And so let me point you to a story I’ve just written for the New York Times. If you think you’ve got it bad with parasites, with your cold viruses and stomach bugs, just think what it’s like to be a fly like Drosophila melanogaster. Wasps land on you, inject eggs in your body, and turn you into an extra on the set of Aliens. It now turns out that these flies have a secret weapon. It’s booze. And it turns out to destroy the parasitic wasps in perhaps the most horrific way imaginable.

This was the very first article I’ve ever written where I was able to quote a scientist who said–without prompting or reading off a cue card: “The flies self-medicate by getting schnockered.”

Enjoy.

[Image: Photo by raysto – http://flic.kr/p/aoe5xF ]

Comments (2)

  1. MonkeyBoy

    And this in turn leads to fruit flies being attracted to alcoholic drinks and human cultures inventing things like closed containers for storage and steins with lids for drinking. In parts of the US a “mason jar” is a preferred drinking vessel often with a screw on lid.

  2. Neat! I’ve been reading recently about how European naturalists, from Martin Lister to Pierre Lyonet, discovered ichneumon wasp parasitism in all its horror. Nice to know that at least some of the parasitized have a weapon (besides laying massive numbers of eggs in hopes that some survive), and that it’s booze!

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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