Sauropod Dinosaurs Likely Consumed Psychotropic Fungus

Posted on February 16, 2015

Palaeoclaviceps parasiticus in amber

Sauropod dinosaurs likely ate a psychotropic fungus. A 100-million-year-old amber fossil from Myanmar indicates the fungus was on the grass some dinosaurs would have eaten. The amber fossil above shows a grass spikelet with a fungus similar to ergot.

Ergot is the fungus that some experts believe caused hallucinogenic episodes during the period of the Salem witch trials. The fungus can cause delirium, gangrenous limbs, pain, convulsions and death. It contains ergotamine which has been used to make LSD. The fungus belongs to the genus Claviceps. The extinct fungus in the amber grass specimen is Palaeoclaviceps parasiticus. It is described as being very similar to ergot.

The researchers from Oregon State University published a report on the fungus in the journal, Palaeodiversity. They say in a release that sauropod dinosaurs would have eaten the fungus as it would have been growing on the plants they ate. They say the fungus and the grasses it lived on co-existed with the dinosaurs for millions of years. The researchers say they have no idea what effect the fungus would have had on the huge sauropods.

The scientists say, "And if they already seemed a little scary, imagine a huge sauropod dinosaur that just ate a large portion of this psychotropic fungus, which in other animal species can cause anything from hallucinations to delirium, gangrene, convulsions or the staggers."

George Poinar, Jr., an expert on the life forms found in amber and a faculty member in the OSU College of Science, says in a statement, "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. 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."

Photo: OSU College of Science