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Global Ideas

Potheads and boozers in the animal kingdom

Reindeer love eating toadstools, kangaroos are into poppy seeds and guenons appreciate a cocktail or two. Alcohol and drugs are widespread among animals.

To escape the drab monotony of every day life, alcohol and other drugs are apparently just as enticing to animals as they are to humans. A number of animals regularly go for a big slug of hard liquor or hard drugs such as opiates. "Some animals are potheads, others boozers," says biologist Mario Ludwig.

The scientist has made it his specialty to look at the quirkier and lesser known phenomena from the animal kingdom and to give them a popular science treatment. He has published 20 books on these quirky matters.

Reindeer love eating fly agarics and as they contain hallucinogens, the animals end up swaying by the time they've finished their meal. In Tasmania drugs are big among some animals, too. Kangaroos regularly invade opium poppy fields, eat the flowers' seed pots, get high on the morphine they contain, and then madly run around in circles, says Ludwig.

Young guys having a joint

But nothing beats the bottle nosed dolphins. "They use another animal as a recreational drug –

pufferfish

,"Ludwig says. When stressed the fish excrete tetradoxin, a potent neurotoxin. The dolphins have been filmed harassing a puffer fish and passing it around much like a joint. "But for some reason only young male dolphins seemed to be involved," Ludwig adds.

Booze problem

Braunbrustigel

For British hedgehogs raiding beer traps in flower beds is their idea of going to the local pub.

Alcohol consumption in the form of fermented berries and fruit have been observed in many animals. But hedgehogs in the UK have a significant alcohol problem, the scientist remarks. The reason is that many of the island’s hobby gardeners have put up beer traps to protect their flowers and vegetables from slugs. Slugs happen to be the hedgehog's favorite food, and so they raid the cups containing the slug'n'beer-mix. The hedgehogs end up so drunk that they fall asleep in garden hedges where they are relatively unprotected.

Finally, the Guenons on St. Kitts in the Caribbean are even less reserved about getting what they want. "They drink up the tourists’ cocktails and then pass out right on the beach."

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