Were dinosaurs tripping on the grass they ate?

A fossil found in an amber mine in Myanmar reveals what's believed to be the oldest grass species ever found, with a fungus linked to LSD growing on it that dinosaurs may have snacked on.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

A grass floret with the ergot-like fungus atop it. Such a diet might have led dinosaurs to trip -- in more ways than one. George Poinar, Jr.

If you think living as a dinosaur in a world populated by other sharp-toothed "terrible lizards" was a bit intimidating, imagine what that world must have been like if some of those massive marvels were tripping on an LSD-like hallucinogen.

That's the possibility that's been raised by a perfectly preserved amber fossil found in Myanmar that's between 97 million and 110 million years old. The fossil contains a specimen of what's believed to be the oldest grass ever found (palaeoclaviceps parasiticus) with a dollop of a fungus on top that's a close relative to the ergot fungus.

"Ergot has played roles as a medicine, a toxin and a hallucinogen; been implicated in everything from disease epidemics to the Salem witch trials; and more recently provided the hallucinogenic drug LSD," according to a report about the discovery from Oregon State University, home to some of the researchers on the project.

The grass and its attendant fungus were growing during the early-to-mid Cretaceous period on Earth, which means there would have been plenty of grass-munching dinos around to ingest the trippy substance.

"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. from the OSU College of Science, quoted in the report.

Considering that "in animal and human history, the fungus has been known to cause delirium, irrational behavior, convulsions, severe pain, gangrenous limbs and death," chances are good that if the fungus did have an effect on the dinosaurs, it wouldn't have been a pretty one.

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