Feb 11, 2015 I Paul Seaburn

Dinosaurs Ate Magic Fungus But Did They Get High?

We’ve seen enough dinosaur movies to know it wouldn’t be a wise decision to mess with one, but would our opinion change if we knew the dinosaur was high on a magic fungus that is one of the key ingredients in LSD? If a Tyrannosaurus Rex dropped acid, would it become a giant lizard of love? Would anyone see a movie called "Giant Lizard of Love" starring Chris Pratt?

Those questions came to mind after reading about a new discovery that a fungus similar to ergot fungi or Claviceps purpurea – a fungus used by scientists in the 1960s to synthesize LSD – existed over 100 million years ago on grasses and was probably eaten by herbivorous dinosaurs (I know, T. Rex was a carnivore but it ate herbivores). The fungus was found on the tips of grass blade encased in amber uncovered in a mine in Myanmar.

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The grass encased in amber that was tipped with the ergot fungus

According to the study published in the journal Palaeodiversity, the grass grew in the middle of the Cretaceous period when large dinosaurs still roamed but plants and small mammals were beginning to appear. Dr. George Poinar, palaeobiologist at Oregon State University, speculates on what happened when the fungus, called Palaeoclaviceps parasiticus, grew on wild grass.

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. There is a good possibility that some of the chemical compounds found in the fossil were hallucinogenic.

The ancestors of ergot were believed to have first appeared in South America, so the discovery in Myanmar means the fungus originated in the Old World instead and was older and more widespread than first thought. In addition to LSD, more than 1,000 compounds and many valuable drugs have been extracted or derived from ergot and its relatives.

The fungus is now extinct but it was known to have a bitter taste that may have repelled herbivores and protected the growing plants. It was also known to known to cause delirium, irrational behavior, convulsions, severe pain, gangrenous limbs and death. So it looks like those giant herbivores who could stand the taste probably did get stoned or at least feel really paranoid about their limbs falling off.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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