Sauropod dinosaurs may have hummed their own version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, 100 million years before psychedelics were embraced by the hippie counterculture.
An amber fossil found in Myanmar reveals the earliest grass specimen mixed with the fungus, Palaeoclaviceps parasiticus, similar to Claviceps, commonly known as ergot. Over 1,000 compounds have been extracted or derived from ergot, including the psychedelic compound lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD.
“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,” said George Poinar, Jr. a faculty member in the OSU College of Science and internationally recognized expert on life forms found in amber.
This amber fossil dates 97-110 million years ago to the early-to-mid Cretaceous, an era dominated by dinosaurs and conifers. It was also a time when the earliest flowering plants, grasses and small mammals were beginning to evolve. Amber, beginning as a tree sap, flowed around small animal and grass forms that has permanently preserved them. Contained within the Myanmar fossil is a grass floret tipped by the dark fungus (see photo).
“This is an important discovery that helps us understand the timeline of grass development, which now forms the basis of the human food supply in such crops as corn, rice or wheat,” Poinar said. “But it also shows that this parasitic fungus may have been around almost as long as the grasses themselves, as both a toxin and natural hallucinogen.”
Some researchers speculate that plants like conifers may have been first choice for feeding as grasses infected with the fungus taste bitter, providing a built in herbivore repellant. Yet, without drug laws, dinosaurs could have freely munched on this psychedelic fungus, known to cause hallucinations, delirium, gangrene, convulsions or the staggers in others species. Their comrades may have tiptoed on their talons it they saw someone tripping after lunch.
These findings were a collaboration by researchers from Oregon State University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Germany, published in the Journal Paleodiversity.