A Love of Peppers: Humans vs. Shrews

Filed in Blog by on July 28, 2018

In the scheme of things you’ve probably never really thought much about what you have in common with a tree shrew. After all, it probably sounds pretty ridiculous. When it comes to a love of hot peppers, though, the tree shrew may be a human’s biggest supporter. That’s because tree shrews, like humans, are apparently drawn to the spicy foods that actually repel most all other mammals on the planet. At least that’s according to some just published research on the attraction of certain animals to spicy foods.

Chinese researchers found that tree shrews had a tolerance to spicy plants due to a lower sensitivity to capsaicinoids, the spicy substance of the plant. Digging a little further, they found that a spicy, native pepper plant to the area where tree shrews live produces a substance much like capsaicin, the spicy part of chili peppers. While other animals are repelled by such an addition to their diet, the tree shrew may have simply adapted to enjoy its spicy food supply. It’s suspected that tree shrews have a type of mutation that lowers their sensitivity, thereby allowing them to consume peppers without fear of going overboard on the heat. It also so happens that birds help disperse chili pepper plant seeds because they too aren’t affected by capsaicin.

While humans are generally at least somewhat sensitive to spicy food, some can’t get enough of the burning sensation. Similarly, when provided with a chili pepper, the three shrews in the study actively fed on those peppers. While it’s said that humans are the only mammals to deliberately seek out a spicy sensation from their food, the study found that tree shrews certainly tolerate capsaicin. So the next time you feel the need for a bottle of heat, just remember you may not be the only mammal on the planet to enjoy extra spice.

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