It would be naive to assume that humans are the only ones that have discovered how to get high or drunk. Whether alcohol, opium, cocaine, or caffeine, if a mind-altering substance exists in nature, animals are sure to have discovered it.
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Dolphins are amongst the most intelligent animals, and it might be their intelligence that lets them find out a clever way to get high. They achieve their desired goal by chewing on a pufferfish that releases toxins when threatened. While a too large amount of these toxins would be deadly, dolphins know when to stop, which makes their indulgence much less dangerous than that of other animals down this list.
In the documentary series Dolphins: Spy in the Pod, dolphins have been captured on camera as they congregate in small groups and pass a pufferfish around to enjoy the resulting trance-like state – an uncannily human way to enjoy a night out with friends.
2) Fruit Flies
Another animal that, perhaps more surprisingly, displays very human-like behavior in its approach to intoxication is the fruit fly, Drosophila. Studies have shown that male fruit flies seek out alcohol when mates have rejected them.
Nobody who has ever offered a house-cat a toy filled with catnip and then observed the animal’s manic, excited behavior can doubt that catnip is very much a drug to them. Since it grows worldwide, not only house cats use this plant to get high, but big cats like tigers, too.
Other big cats that like to get high are the jaguars in the Amazon rainforest. These carnivores make an exception to chew the intoxicating – and often also nauseating – bark, leaves, and the vine of the Yage plant.
Since consumption of this plant leads to pupillary dilation, it is theorized that jaguars might use it to tighten their sensory perception to make them better hunters. This might explain why they accept side effects like nausea and frightening hallucinations.
Birds of all kinds enjoy the buzz that comes with feeding on fermented fruit. Unfortunately, flying under the influence is as dangerous as driving under the influence for humans. Drunk birds often lose their ability to orientate themselves, control their speed, and stop. This leads to sad sights when countless birds are found dead after drunkenly crashing into buildings.
Since most common backyard birds are such small creatures, they can also easily die of an overdose alone. Some birds, like waxwings, also have a relatively large liver that gives them a higher tolerance to fermented berries since they rely mainly on feeding on berries to get through winter.
Like birds, bats enjoy the taste and effects of fermented fruit, but they are much more competent drunk fliers than their feathered counterparts. They can still use their echolocation and passed a sobriety test consisting of an obstacle course with flying colors – some of them with a blood alcohol content three times higher than what counts as DUI.
If you have ever had a can or bottle of beer with you while enjoying a nice summer day outside, you might have been surprised that butterflies are really into this drink.
7) The Pen-Tailed Tree Shrew
A very dedicated drinker is the pen-tailed tree shrew, a small, rat-like animal living in Malaysia. This shrew drinks fermented palm nectar for two hours every night – ingesting the equivalent of nine glasses. These tiny animals can metabolize alcohol much better than humans.
Rather than mere fun, their reasons for consuming so much alcohol in such a short time are other positive side-effects, like protection against cardiovascular risks and an increased
8) Vervet Monkeys
Vervet monkeys are actually home to Africa, but during the slave trade in the 18th and 19th century, they have spread out to some islands in the Caribbean, like the island of St. Kitts. These monkeys’ propensity for alcohol began with fermented sugar cane during the plantation era.
This helped them to develop both a taste for alcohol and a higher tolerance compared to other animals that are less experienced drinkers. Similar to rebellious human teenagers, adolescent monkeys like to get drunk more frequently than adults.
Bees are among nature’s hardest drinkers and are capable of gulping down pure ethanol – end surviving. In the summer heat, nectar sometimes ferments, leading to an alcoholic substance that tastes like mead and maybe even was the inspiration for that drink.
Aside from alcoholic nectar, bees also are known for favoring nectar that contains nicotine and caffeine over nectar that contains neither of these substances.
While usually there is no social stigma around drunkenness for animals, this looks different for bees. When drunk bees return to their hive, they are punished by being attacked or pushed away on the landing platform so that they cannot enter the hive. This sounds harsh, but it makes sense when focusing on the survival of the whole colony: if alcohol-affine bees brought their fermented nectar inside, it would be turned into fermented honey, which, in the worst case, could leave the whole hive unable to function.
While coffee is such an everyday drink, many people do not even realize that it is, in fact, a drug with significant effects. Especially animals that do not have build up the tolerance of someone who needs a coffee first thing in the morning are much more susceptible to behaving almost drunkenly when ingesting caffeine.
One theory – or legend – about how caffeine as a psychoactive substance has been discovered goes back to intoxicated goats in the forests of Ethiopia. According to the story, it was a goat herder named Kaldi who first saw the potential of the berries of the coffee plant after his goats were so energetic after consuming said beans that they jumped around erratically and did not even want to sleep at night.
Australian farmers complain about wallabies raiding poppy fields and getting stoned on opium. When they are high, they tend to run in circles until they crash. This leaves crop circles behind, which are often explained as signs of alien spaceships without stoned animals to blame on.
12) Canadian Bighorn Sheep
These sheep living in the Canadian Rocky Mountains deviate from their usual migration routes to lick narcotic lichen. In his book Intoxication: The Universal Drive for Mind-Altering Substances, psychiatrist Ronald K. Siegel tells of bighorn sheep that navigate risky routes and cliffs just to get at this lichen.
The caterpillars of the cocaine tussock moth, or Eloria noyesi, enjoy snacking on the leaves of the coca plant, and they can consume a great amount of these leaves. This is why some suggest using these caterpillars to replace toxic, dangerous herbicides that are often used to destroy cocaine crops.
14) African Wild Boars
Wild boars native to Africa dig up the roots of Tabernanthe iboga, a narcotic plant, and eat them. This has been observed in the forests of Gabon and northern Congo. After consuming these roots, the boars jumped around erratically and, obviously in a state of panic, displayed reactions of fear and flight.
Humans also use this plant; even back in the 19th century, it was described as useful to hunters since it kept them awake during night watches.
Their propensity for enjoying a drink is often used to lure them to their death in traps laced with cider or beer, where they drown in a drunken stupor.
Unfortunately, the slug traps mentioned above also attract hedgehogs, which are equally fond of a nice pint. Hedgehogs that have filled up on slug traps tend to be so drunk that they do not return to their hiding places and instead lie around our in the open on the lawn. This leaves them vulnerable to predators like cats or birds.
17) Pine Bark Beetles
Another insect that likes a stiff drink is the pine bark beetles. For these beetles, though, alcohol is more useful than recreational – its smell helps them find rotten tree stumps that they can colonize.
There are a lot of reindeer, also called caribous, in Siberia, and there is an equally large amount of the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria available – this equation basically solves itself. It is even theorized that the legend of Santa Claus and his flying reindeer can be traced back to hallucinogenic mushrooms: a few hundred years ago, shamans or priests would bring a bag of dried Amanita muscaria, also known as the holy mushroom, as a present on the winter solstice. With its deep red color and white spots, the mushroom even fits the aesthetic we connect with Christmas – and I even remember a beautiful mushroom Christmas ornament we used to place on our tree.
In this theory, the trip Santa takes with his reindeer is drug-induced rather than literal. Of course, as with any theory, there are researchers who oppose the idea of tracing Santa back to Siberian shamans. While it is not likely that any theory about the Santa legend will ever be proven conclusively, but for me, the pictures of mushrooms on Christmas cards and decorations have just acquired a whole new layer of meaning.
Lemurs will chew on millipedes that use dangerous secretions, including cyanide as a defense, to ward off insects such as mosquitoes that carry malaria. But the toxin will also make them slobber and put them in a trance-like state.