Drunk Flies and Stoned Dolphins: A Trip through the World of Animal Intoxication
© 2021 One R. Pagan
Drunk Flies and Stoned Dolphins promises readers amusing stories of animal intoxication, but delivers instead a serious but enjoyable look at animal and human pharmacognosy and presents a case for why psychoactive drugs exist in nature to begin with. Pagan opens by reviewing studies and observations which prove that animals from insects on up make use of substances found in nature (through fungi and plants), sometimes to treat themselves and sometimes to protect their nests and young from parasites: nicotine, for instance, is consumed by bees to destroy internal parasites, but birds also use substances with nicotine in them to make their nests less attractive to insects. From here, Pagan considers the question of why psychoactive substances exist in nature to begin with, and the answer lies in plant behavior. Although we tend to dismiss plants as not having behavior, playing the passive background role in our nature scenes, the stage for animals to show off their own mobility – Pagan briefly addresses that misconception before making a cause for psychoactives as active plant defense. Substances that distract, disorient, or otherwise infeeble predators (predators like insects, deer, or any other plant-chowers) are a powerful weapon in plantkind’s toolbox, but different substances have varying effects on different classes of lifeforms – and some can be addictive to the point of the consumers’ destruction: Pagan includes one observation of goats that, being hooked onto chewing a certain kind of lichen, destroyed their teeth and made themselves unable to eat properly. The plant-defense option doesn’t explain all drug-like substances, but it’s a promising start, and Pagan mentions other ideas when they’re relevant, like the connection between alcohol proclivity and the ability to find ripe fruit. It’s not all serious argument, though: Pagan does weave in anecdotes about squirrels on meth, and octupi and elephants on LSD. Drunk Flies proves as entertaining as its name promises.