Survival of the Sorta Stinky

 

I just read an article on capsaicin having some health benefits.

https://www.inverse.com/article/61745-spicy-food-chili-pepper-health

I thought this was pretty amazing, because I had always heard that capsaicin had evolved to actually discourage animals from eating them. At least the animals that would chew them up and destroy the seeds. Birds eat them fine, and help spread the seeds. So it was wild to me that the chemical might be beneficial to us and that brought to mind not only evolution, but how humans warp all sorts of things.

I was the Great White Squirrel Hunter as a kid. We’d go squirrel hunting in Northern Maryland. They were a pest rodent on the east coast, and in my home town, I would count the road kill riding my bike to my friend’s house. In about a mile there would be 30 just on one side of the road. BUT, in about four years hunting, I think I killed 3-4 squirrels. Because hunting areas had been hunting areas for decades. The area wasn’t populated with the suburban gray squirrels I was used to. All the dumb, slow, non-ninja squirrels were long dead. And they didn’t have any dumb, slow, non-ninja squirrel kids. So climbing up this vast hill, I would simply never see any. Because they would hide. And they were probably waiting for me to go to sleep so they could kill me with their ninja skills.

I think I mentioned before, but there is a skunk about a block from me. I’ve seen it and I’ve smelled it about four times. I was riding my bike with my dog today and I smelled the skunk. It was so slight I didn’t even consciously register it. The east coast is chock full of squirrels and it’s a scent I’m used to. It was so faint, it was barely there. But I’ve noticed the skunks around here literally only stink for a few blocks. That’s the extent of their range. East Coast skunks can stink up 10 miles. And I was thinking what causes that difference? Out here, the only predators are maybe cats, dogs, raccoons, and a rare falcon. So they don’t need to blast a stink factory to keep away those minor pests. But in actuality, it was probably like those gray squirrels. Humans did it. If skunks out here stank for 10 miles, we would kill them mercilessly. Because a million people would smell it in a dense urban area. It’s not as if the skunks knowingly adapted. But the king stinkers were all captured/killed/removed by humans. So what was left was only annoying enough that when a person rides by with his dog, within a block(!), of the skunk, it takes him several minutes to even be aware of it. So we coexist.

Back to hot peppers. If ghost peppers were the natural state of peppers, they would have died out. Yeah, maybe birds could eat them. But we humans would have destroyed them. Because if it rained and a little bit got in puddles, then grass, then water supply, we’d be screaming in agony. We’d make sure to burn them to ash and crush them out of existence. But stuff that has health benefits to us, keeps away masticating predators, but not birds, well, that can cause them to not only thrive, but be cultivated. It’s not evolution over millions of years, it’s just a set of attributes that led to coexistence.

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