Crayfish, They’re Just Like Us: Scientists Use Mud Bugs to Explain Drunkenness

It is a well-studied phenomenon that alcohol gets creatures drunk. Whether you’re human, a fruit fly, a mouse, or a crayfish, consuming ethanol has the same inebriating effect on the body. It is also something that all creatures seem to naturally seek out. The reason for this is not clear, but some scientists hypothesize that it has to do with the conviviality that drunkenness promotes.

While the relationship between drunkenness and conviviality is not well explored, the question is now beginning to gain some traction. In a recent paper published in Experimental Biology, Matthew Swierzbinski, Andrew Lazarchik and Jens Herberholz of the University of Maryland have demonstrated that your daily dose of socialization will affect your sensitivity to alcohol. At least it does if you’re a crayfish – the link for humans still remains an extrapolation of the latest findings.

The Reason Behind the Experiment

Evans insisted I take this picture. #drunkcrawfish

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The purpose of this study was to draw a better map of the underlying molecular mechanisms that ethanol affects. Currently, they are poorly understood. However, one thing is known: crayfish are affected by the same concentrations of alcohol as humans

To test if higher levels of socialization had any bearing on how quickly crayfish become inebriated, scientists began by placing 102 of the crustaceans in the company of several dozen others for seven and ten days. There were 63 others that were left in isolation for similar periods of time.

After their allotted time was up, each crayfish was transferred to a solitary tank that contained a solution of ethanol and water. For the three hours following the initial submersion, the crayfish were videoed.

Unsurprisingly, the crayfish got drunk. Those who were in a stronger 5.8 percent-by-volume solution got quite drunk. The crustaceans tiptoed around, flicked their tails haphazardly, and even began doing somersaults. Those who were in weaker solutions also experienced the same effects, but at a slower rate.

The Findings

The crucial finding here, however, was that when examined closely, the scientists discovered that regardless of the alcohol concentration, the crayfish who had spent their previous days in the company of others got drunk 25 percent faster than those who had been alone.

The conclusion was that whichever receptor molecules are responsible for interacting with ethanol were more plentiful in the socialized animals and perhaps even generated by socializing animals. It remains to be seen whether the results will be applicable to humans or not.

However, for now, feel free to try and replicate the experiment yourself this weekend and report back your results!