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How parrots stomach hot peppers

Capsaicin, the natural flame factor in peppers, tricks mammals’ digestive chemistry

Mattster: My parrot loves hot peppers. He (she, maybe) can't get enough and doesn’t screech or sweat as he chows down on them or even when he poops. Why do parrots seem to be unaffected by the hotness, or are they just masochistic suckers? —Bird Brain, O.B.

Peppers aren’t much known for their long-range planning. But one thing the plant knows that apparently you don’t is that bird poop is an efficient seed disperser. Mammal poop isn’t. So if you’re a jalapeno determined to spawn lots of little jalapenos, you’re going to do whatever it takes to make your seed pods tasty to birds and untasty to mammals. Capsaicin, the natural flame factor in peppers, tricks mammals’ digestive chemistry into sending out phony pain signals. Your bird, a different kind of chemical machine, doesn’t react that way. Capsaicin isn’t caustic or acid. When we go for the gastronomic burn, it’s really just a big trick that our pain receptors play on our brains.

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Mattster: My parrot loves hot peppers. He (she, maybe) can't get enough and doesn’t screech or sweat as he chows down on them or even when he poops. Why do parrots seem to be unaffected by the hotness, or are they just masochistic suckers? —Bird Brain, O.B.

Peppers aren’t much known for their long-range planning. But one thing the plant knows that apparently you don’t is that bird poop is an efficient seed disperser. Mammal poop isn’t. So if you’re a jalapeno determined to spawn lots of little jalapenos, you’re going to do whatever it takes to make your seed pods tasty to birds and untasty to mammals. Capsaicin, the natural flame factor in peppers, tricks mammals’ digestive chemistry into sending out phony pain signals. Your bird, a different kind of chemical machine, doesn’t react that way. Capsaicin isn’t caustic or acid. When we go for the gastronomic burn, it’s really just a big trick that our pain receptors play on our brains.

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