Mind Altering Animals
Biology 342 Fall 2014
Adaptive, Mind-opening, or a Waste of Time?
Amanita muscaria, also known as fly agaric, is common throughout the Northern Hemisphere under conifers and birch trees This white-spotted, red toadstool is the most recognizable mushroom in the world and is widely dispersed throughout popular culture (think Mario and Santa Claus.)
Amanita muscaria is much touted for its hallucinogenic properties, and has a religious significance in Siberian culture, specifically the Tungusic, a reindeer herding indigenous people. It is assumed that herders observed their reindeer’s habit of seeking out these hallucinogenic mushroom and decided to try it out themselves. According to Samorini, though these raindeer typically march in a straight line, they will break form to chase after and dig up (even under snow cover) these mushrooms. it is unclear if the reindeer have come to recognize these mushrooms as sources of nutrition, or they seek the psychadelic effects that accompay them. To this day the Tungusic consume the Amanita muscaria mushroom entheogenically, either raw or distilled in the urine of their reindeer.
Figure 1. Fly Aminita
Many have reflected the hallucinogenic properties of Amanita muscaria in humans onto Reindeer despite the fact that there is no clear evidence of this. There are many assertions about the mushrooms effects on behavior but there is little consistency. One page, aptly named “10 ANIMALS THAT LOVE GETTING HIGH” states that, upon eating the “powerful hallucinogen,” reindeer “can be observed acting completely ridiculous. One of the effects is a deep slumber, and when users awake they have an excess of energy and physical strength. When applied to a reindeer, that can translate to massive leaps.” This is representative of the sheer absurdity of most of these claims. It is far more likely that the reindeer are simply exploiting a calorie rich resource.