Are humans the only animal to drink milk from other species?

09 January 2011

Question

Are humans the only animal to drink milk from other species?

Answer

Diana - Most of us will have seen our pets and various garden wildlife taking advantage of a source of cow's milk on occasion. But are we the only ones to drink it habitually?

Oliver - I'm Oliver Craig and I work at University of York in the Department of Archaeology.

In fact, we are - well at least, we are when we're adults. All juvenile animals can drink milk and that's because they have the enzyme lactase to digest the milk sugars. But the genome that makes the enzyme gets switched off when they get to a certain age, so as adults, they can't drink it. Most humans in fact can't drink milk as adults and there's only a very small fraction of the world's population who can. What's really interesting of course is that those people live in a very geographically restricted area, i.e., Northwest Europe and some parts of Africa. So it's a really interesting question as to why only a certain part of the population can drink milk.

If you're lactose intolerant, you don't possess this enzyme lactase. So basically, the lactose that's in the milk doesn't get digested. It's a disaccharide and it passes straight through the gut and goes into the colon, and it can cause all sorts of unpleasantness, including what's generally quoted as some kind of explosive diarrhoea, and is a really, really nasty condition if you can't actually break these sugars down. But it also causes problems with water retention and all sorts of other problems as well. So really very ill, bad stomach and not actually been able to digest the sugar itself. So at some point in our history, it was a selective advantage for people in Northwest Europe at least to be able to drink milk.

Diana - But does being lactose intolerant really put you to selective disadvantage?

Oliver - Well, you wouldn't have thought it would really, would you? It's not going to impact on your daily life massively. It's only going to be selective disadvantage if there's a real advantage in being able to drink milk, fresh milk. It comes back to the question then, why is being able to drink milk such a selective advantage? The answer is that we really don't know and that's what we're trying to research and find out. The first thing that we need to do is find out when or at what point in our history did that need to drink milk actually occur?

Diana - As far as we know, humans are the only animals to drink another species milk regularly, but only a small proportion of humans have the lactase enzyme. Cats and dogs are often seen taking delight in a serving of milk, though I'd rather not consider the consequences. An excellent find on our forum came from Jackass Penguin who cited the Red Billed Oxpecker, a bird that can perch on the udders of an Impala and drink its milk. Elsewhere, in Isla de Guadalupe, feral cats, seagulls, and sheathbills have been observed stealing the milk directly from the teats of elephant seals. So perhaps milk stealing does happen a little more than we currently know.

Comments

If animals could raise cows like vegetables for their milk and meat they would.
No i dont think they would. As the intelligent species given the power and the responsibility to rule over other living creatures we are going to be held accountable for how we treat those beings powerless to defend themselves from our rampant consumerism and gluttony.
You dont need a science degree. Common sense should point out the blazing red flags that something is wrong. We are literally destroying the ozone layer with cow flatulence while we run other species into total extinction. Our bodies dont need calf food as adults and actively reject it. If nature isnt enough reason you can count on humans to jump in the mix and make it worse with growth hormones and inhumane breeding conditions that breed bacteria and disease just as well because assembly line production is not suitable for probably any product meant for human consumption let alone sentient creatures born and bred for slaughter. Anytime profit takes precendence over conscience there will be fallout and it taints anyone who touches it. Simply a matter of natural law.

Are you telling me that if a lion eats a lactating gazelle it doesn't drink the milk? If a polar bear captures a lactating seal it spits it out? This "only humans drink the milk of another species" or "only humans drink milk as adults" crap has to stop. Maybe only humans cultivate another animal to drink the milk, but most animals don't cultivate vegetables either. This argument is inane and you should more forcefully put it down.

I agree. If other animals could they would.

This is the most disgusting s**t I’ve ever heard!!!! Those of you arguing, would your gross ass walk up to a cow, put its teet in your mouth and start guzzling? You’ve just become desensitized to it cause you think milk comes from a carton... really spend some time thinking of how gross it is to just walk up to any other animal and do that!

If i was raised on raw milk. I wouldnt necessarily put the nip in my mouth (cuz that is just weird) but i would certainly squirt it into a bucket or bowl or somthung and then drink it, thou i prefer my milk cold. So assumong someobe says these thibgs just cuz u assume they wouldnt do that is stupid... Plenty of ppl grow up on fars that drink milk fresh from the cow (raw milk) a.k.a my Mom, thet have no problem squieting some milk in a xonta8ner if they need it straight from the cow. What do u think ppl first did when we first started drinking from cows, shoot im sure that if they had no container they woukd squirt it staight into their mouths.

Animals would do this on rare occasions as it would benefit there survival. Food is becoming more scarce due to human activities so they need to use these resources to be alive. Humans do not need cows milk to SURVIVE.They actually hinder our survival in many ways, research the negative effects of milk its definitely worth having a look. That is where the difference is. We are lactose intolerant for a reason.

And your evidence in support of the unqualified assertions that you have made here is...?

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