Creature Feature for May

Well it would appear we are not the only creatures to seek a little light relief from Nature’s garden! I started to look into it and this is what I found – I think it’s very funny! It would appear there has been quite the party going on.

Firstly, sheep in Scotland are mad for magic mushrooms; a small fungi that contains a natural form of LSD, causing them to hallucinate for hours. According to reports, the sheep: stumble and fall like drunks; run in terror from imaginary predators; wander onto roads and refuse to move, even for speeding traffic; have lost all interest in sex; walk sideways and backwards, bleating crazily; won’t eat anything but mushrooms, even though they have no nutritional value and taste like old leather. Begging the question, how do they know?

Shepherds alerted authorities after their herds began to behave strangely in August. Animal experts traced the problems to the mushrooms, which grow wild and in great numbers in the Shetland Islands when weather conditions are right. “In a few more weeks the mushrooms will be gone and the sheep will return to normal,” said Dr. Johnston. “In the meantime, the shepherds are going to have to keep a close eye on their flocks, as long as they’re under the influence of drugs, they’re in danger of hurting themselves.”

I always remember my Grandmother warning me to be careful of wasps around late autumn time, as they were drunk! Apparently it’s true. They munch on the last of the rotting fruit, which is fermenting and get slaughtered, thus disorientated, flying into everyone one and stinging people indiscriminately.

There is evidence from around the world of animals deliberately eating such plants, and legends about plants used in sacred rituals often include references to animals introducing them to mankind.

One such species, appropriately for a Christmassy article, is the reindeer, which goes to great lengths to search out the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) — the one with the white-spotted red cap that garden gnomes like to sit on.

Eating the toadstool makes reindeer behave in a drunken fashion, running about aimlessly and making strange noises. Head-twitching is also common. Fly agaric is found across the northern hemisphere and has long been used by people for its psychotropic properties. But its use can be dangerous because it also contains toxic substances. Reindeer seem to metabolise these toxic elements without harm, while the main psychoactive constituents remain un-metabolised and are excreted in the urine.

Reindeer herders in Europe and Asia long ago learnt to collect the reindeer pee for use as a comparatively safe source of the hallucinogen. Eeeeeewwwww! Monkeys, water buffalo and birds eating opium poppies (I had to read that twice before I realised that we’re not talking about poppies that devour birds – Ed) Boars, porcupines, gorillas and mandrills will dig up and eat the powerfully hallucinogenic roots of the African plant Iboga. Cats and catnip. Horses and cows can’t get enough of the plant locoweed. Koalas falling out of eucalyptus trees.

If there’s one animal that loves a good party, it’s got to be the vervet monkey. In experiments on the Caribbean island of St Kitts, scientists have found that their drinking patterns are curiously human. Given the choice of whether to drink or not, 15% of the vervets stay teetotal. But most of them are moderate, social drinkers who like their alcohol diluted with fruit juice. About 15% drink heavily and like their spirits neat, while 5% are binge drinkers who gulp booze down at top speed, pass out on the floor and do it all over again the next day. Their social traits are familiar too. Some tiddly monkeys get aggressive, some get flirty, others think everything’s funny and some just get grumpy.

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