Using a remote-controlled camera disguised as a sea turtle, marine biologists watched as young dolphins got themselves stoned by ingesting a nerve toxin released by puffer fish. And as if sharing a joint, the dolphins could be seen passing it around.
Puffer fish, when provoked, protect themselves by releasing a nasty toxin that can be deadly. But the dolphins appear to have figured out how to make the fish release it in just the right amount.
After chewing on the puffer fish and passing it around between one another, the dolphins appeared to enter into a trance-like state.
"[T]hey began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection," noted zoologist Rob Pilley. "It reminded us of that craze a few years ago when people started licking toads to get a buzz, especially the way they hung there in a daze afterwards. It was the most extraordinary thing to see."
The behavior was recorded on camera by the makers of the nature documentary, Dolphins: Spy in the Pod — a series produced for BBC One. Here’s the trailer: (x)
And check out this wild robotic camera disguised as a sea turtle: (x)
Many of you have seen my post on a dolphin’s recreational tool use, so this post shouldn’t really come as a major surprise. Yes, dolphins are highly intelligent social animals…. BUT this kind of recreational self-medication (different than medicinal / strictly anti-parasitic self-medication) is not particularly unique in the animal kingdom. Let’s take a quick look at a few other animals who enjoy some recreational self-medication…
~Black Lemur (Eulemur macaco)
The Black Lemur will seek out certain toxic millipedes (Charactopygus spp.), bite them to stimulate the millipede’s defensive toxin production, and then proceed to rub the wounded millipede all over their fur. A report on this fur anointing noted that after biting the millipede, the lemurs would grimace, with their eyes half-closed, and salivate profusely. (x)
Check out this BBC Nature video of this anointing behavior! (x)
~Chacma / Cape baboons (Papio ursinus)
Hamilton et al. (1978) classified a group of food items consumed by these baboons as euphorics. These euphorics are “distinguished by their hallucinogenic properties and their high toxicity to humans and other mammals” and included such plants like the Large Fever-Berry (Croton megalobotrys), Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia avasmontana), Downy thorn-apple / moonflower (Datura innoxia), and Jimson weed (D. stramonium). (x)
~Horses and other livestock
Locoweed is the common name for any plant that produces swainsonine, typically plants of the Oxytropis and Astragalus families in North America. This intoxicating-yet-dangerous plant is very palatable to lifestock, and is even considered the largest poison-plant problem in the Western United States! Livestock that chronically ingest large amounts of swainsonine can develop diarrhea, behavioral changes, congestive heart failure, vacuolization of tissues, and a medical condition known as locoism (a.k.a. swainsonine disease). (x,x)
~Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)
Reindeer seek out the red and white caps of the ‘magic mushroom’ Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria ). These toxic fungi provide a high reminiscent of flying, and is said to be similar to hallucinogenic effects of LSD. This magic mushroom wasn’t just limited to animal use, it is also fairly prevalent in shamanism and other religious rituals in the area. (x, x)
~Hummingbirds (Ensifera ensifera)
Some hummingbirds, like the sword-billed hummingbird, feed on the nectar of the Datura (spp.) flower. Each plant’s toxicity depends on the age, location, and weather conditions, and can result in a 5:1 toxin variation. Datura intoxication can produce delirium, inability to distinguish reality from fantasy, hyperthermia, violent behavior, dilated pupils, painful long lasting photophobia, and even pronounced amnesia.(x, x)
Sword-billed hummingbird approaching Datura flower to feed (x)
~Animal Pharm: What Can We Learn From Nature’s Self-Medicators (National Geographic)
[This is a very brief introductory article on self-medication behavior. If you guys would like me to do an in-depth article on this, just let me know!]