RE: NANFA-L-- old topic - capsaicin - comments from Liz

Bruce Stallsmith (
Sun, 20 Feb 2005 12:14:05 -0500

You're right about the red color perception. Few animals have the same range
of color perception that we have as African primates. Many birds can see
red, too. But, as mammals, we have to chew food in order to swallow it
usually. Other vertebrates tend to swallow chunks of food more or less
whole. Between less chewing and little taste perception, birds will be less
affected by any chemicals in peppers.

Fishes, on the other hand, have excellent chemosensory organs. I bet no fish
would eat peppers... but I'm not really sure.

--Bruce Stallsmith
on the rainy Tennessee
Huntsville, AL, US of A

>Subject: NANFA-L-- old topic - capsaicin - comments from Liz
>Date: Sun, 20 Feb 2005 08:28:43 EST
> > >Bruce, seems like I read that the birds swallow the peppers whole, and
> > >do not release the capsaicin from the peppers until digestion is
> > >in the gizzard. Then the capsaicin has the same cathartic effect that
> > >has in people -- that is, the undigested seeds are passed more quickly
> > >they would be if there were no capsaicin involved. The capsaicin
> > >stimulates pain receptors in mammals, which masticate the chili
> > >but not in birds, which have no teeth. Seems like Jantzen, of
> > >of Pennsylvania (or one of his students) did some work on this with
> > >long-billed thrashers in S. Texas and in Arizona, and found that
> > >capsaicin is cathartic in them. These birds eat a lot of peppers where
> > >they grow wild as part of the shrub stands in S. Texas. I think that
> > >was even speculation that the chili advertises itself to the birds by
> > >bright colors.
> >Birds are not in the least bit effected by capsaicin, neither are iguanas
> >they eat lots and lots of peppers in South America and spread the seeds.
>I have heard, but am not up on the latest research to be sure, that
>supposedly the capsaicin is an adaptation to keep mammals, who apparently
>are inferior seed dispersers, from eating the peppers, so that more will be
>left for birds to eat. Birds see red well, but many mammals apparently
>lack a red cone in their eye and do not.
>People who keep parrots often feed dried hot peppers to them and the
>parrots do chew them up, apparently with no bad effect. Whatever the
>reason is that it doesn't hurt them, it's not because they don't get it on
>their tongue and skin, which are very sensitive. Perhaps they don't have
>the right kind of receptor in their skin for the capsaicin. Heaven
>knows. However, the peppers have successfully trained parrot owners not
>to kiss their parrots after such a meal - owza! This was probably not the
>evolutionary intent, but the world is pretty messed up nowadays.

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