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Dinos Tripped on Ancient Fungus, Fossils Hint

Feb 11, 2015 03:19 PM EST

You may think that people were the original psychedelic sojourners, 'tripping' on acid and mushrooms in a time of spirituality and rock n' roll. However, fossil evidence now indicates that dinosaurs could have been tripping too, albeit indivertibly, 100 million years ago.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Palaeodiversity, which details how experts recently unearthed an amber fossil of Palaeoclaviceps parasiticus, which is uncannily similar to a modern grass parasite known as ergot. This was reportedly the first fossil ever found of a fungal grass parasite.

Ergot is known as a toxic precursor to the development of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and was the root cause of ergotism - a side effect of long-term poisoning from consumption of the parasite. Historically, ergotism affected people eating untreated grain products, and caused alarming symptoms including spasms, burning, itching, and even mania and psychosis. Historians have even labeled it as one of the main causes of what was called "bewitchment" or demonic possession.

And while that sure doesn't sound fun or healthy, ergotamine and lysergic acid - ingredients essential in creating LSD and modern medications alike - can be derived from the fungus.

Interestingly, this fungus now seems to have been around a lot longer than previously thought, as the amber fossil features the parasite perched atop a spike of grass that grew about 100 million years ago. (Scroll to read on...)

What's more, both the grass and ergot fossil resemble modern species to a T.

"It indicates that psychedelic compounds were present back in the Cretaceous," researcher George Poinar Jr., of Oregon State University, explained to Live Science.

He added that there is plenty of fossil evidence that herbivore dinosaurs munched on prehistoric grass for as long as it was around, helping the plant spread its seeds and become increasingly prevalent. Still, one question remains: "did the dinosaurs get high?"

"There's no doubt in my mind that it would have been eaten by sauropod dinosaurs, although we can't know what exact effect it had on them," Poinar added in a statement.

However, the researchers noted in their report that "few fungi have had a greater historical impact on society than ergot," affecting grass cultivating societies for as long as humanity has taken to the fields.

Ergot, it is suggested, could have developed as a natural defense for grasses, discouraging overeating with the threat of violent ergotism. It would stand to reason then, that the parasite affected dinosaurs in a similar way, even if it didn't necessarily cause them to take wild trips.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).


- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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