Tag Archives: Reindeer

Humans aren’t the only animals that get drunk (or worse): here are a few others

Drinking isn’t good for you, but watching parrots get drunk is both healthy and entertaining. Not for the parrots, though.

There’s no day like a weekend day — cause that’s when we get to party. But humans aren’t the only animals that like to abuse their systems with various chemicals. In fact, a lot of animals do it; and get into trouble afterward. We’ve seen the shenanigans that animals go through in love (and lust), some of which are amusingly similar to those we humans cause or experience. So let’s see whether our furry and feathered friends also mirror us in the bad choices we make on a night out on the town (spoiler: they do).

The Darwin Drinking Awards

Northern Australia is the only place on Earth that I know of which has three seasons: a wet season, a dry season, and a drunken parrot season.

Red-collared Lorikeet.
Image via Wikimedia.

Just before the wet season, roughly in mid-to-late December, the local Weeping Boer-bean trees (Schotia brachypetala) are flowering. This brings swarms of red-collared lorikeets to the area to feed on the nectar of the trees’ flowers. However, after a while, some of the birds start to sway a little bit — and then fall out of trees. Darwin locals report that the birds lack coordination and that they seemingly lose their ability to fly and sometimes even to walk. Vets say the birds act similar to drunken people. They also seem to experience disorientation, energy loss, and perhaps headaches, all very familiar hangover symptoms.

While the possibility of a virus affecting these birds hasn’t yet been ruled out, the event may have more to do with the trees — which are also known as the Drunken Parrot Tree, I’ll let you judge for yourself. So far, local animal caretakers and vets provide safe, quiet places for the parrots to recover — which can take months in some rare cases according to National Geographic — while providing sweetened porridge and fresh fruit. The prevailing theory is that the parrots get drunk off their tails on nectar and fruit fermented in the baking Australian heat.

Tripping Reindeers

Reindeer live in Siberia (in North America too, but they’re called caribou there). The hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria also lives in Siberia, among other places. And the reindeer like to get really, really high on the ‘shrooms during those long and dreary winter months.

Image credits Bernard Spragg. NZ / Flickr.

Reindeer that partake of the mushrooms have been documented to act almost as if drunk, running around aimlessly, making strange noises, and twitching their heads.

“They have a desire to experience altered states of consciousness,” Huffington Post cites researcher Andrew Haynes, who studied the behavior in the wild. “For humans a common side-effect of mushrooms is the feeling of flying, so it’s interesting the legend about Santa’s reindeer is they can fly.”

He also adds that herdsmen drink the reindeer’s urine to get high themselves.

“Fly agaric is found across the northern hemisphere and has long been used by mankind for its psychotropic properties, but its use can be dangerous because it also contains toxic substances,” he explains for the Pharmaceutical Journal.

“Reindeer seem to metabolise these toxic elements without harm, while the main psychoactive constituents remain unmetabolised and are excreted in the urine. Reindeer herders in Europe and Asia long ago learnt to collect the reindeer urine for use as a comparatively safe source of the hallucinogen.”

Sharing, it seems, really is caring.

Popped-up Wallabies

Wallabies are adorable, diminutive kangaroos native to Australia and New Guinea.

They look like this.
Image via Pxfuel.

Opium poppy farmers on Tasmania (an island off the south Australian coast) have reported that wallabies will sometimes break into their fields to dine on the flowers, which are the raw material for prescription painkillers.

Although exactly which species of wallabies are responsible is still unknown, the animals have been seen eating poppies before running around in circles and eventually passing out, according to a BBC report. Lara Giddings, the attorney general for the island state of Tasmania even described the animals as being “high as a kite” and creating crop circles.

“The one interesting bit that I found recently in one of my briefs on the poppy industry was that we have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite and going around in circles,” Lara Giddings told a parliamentary hearing on security for poppy crops. “Then they crash.”

“We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high.”

Rick Rockliff, a spokesman for poppy producer Tasmanian Alkaloids, told the BBC that these wallaby incursions aren’t very common, although other animals have been spotted “acting unusually” in the poppies.

Australia is a major producer of raw materials for the painkiller industry, supplying around half of the world’s (legally-grown) opium. And, it seems, the main supplier for wallabies as well.

Bees on a binge

Bees keep the world turning, but that doesn’t seem to stop them from functional alcoholism.


The bee nervous system is similar enough to that of humans for alcohol to have similar effects on them. In fact, researchers sometimes use bee colonies as models to test out the effects of alcohol intoxication in humans and other vertebrates. For example, a team of researchers at Ohio State University routinely gives bees ethanol — drinking alcohol — to see how it affects them. Unsurprisingly, they found that it affected their flying, walking, and grooming.

“Alcohol affects bees and humans in similar ways — it impairs motor functioning along with learning and memory processing,” Dr Julie Mustard, an entomology researcher at the university, explained to the BBC.

But bees seem in no way content to limit their day-drinking to the lab. Just last year, Australian Parliament’s head beekeeper Cormac Farrell explained that the bees, which could be seen sometimes dropping on the ground around the Australian House of Parliament in Canberra, are just really blitzed. Sadly for the bees, they can sometimes drink themselves to death, and the queens aren’t very understanding of them — they will post guards at the entrance of their hives to keep any ‘merry’ bees from getting in.

“As the weather heats up, the nectar in some Australian flowers will ferment, making the foragers drunk,” Farrell told The Canberra Times last year. “Usually this makes them a bit wobbly, and if they come back to the beehive drunk the guards will turn them away until they sober up.”

“The drunk bees are kept out of the hive to stop the honey from fermenting inside, which could hurt the whole colony,” he added.

Only introduced and exotic honeybees seem affected, with Farrell noting that he had not seen any drunk native bees, of which Australia can boast 2000 species.

So, are bees just the victims of excellent work ethic and fermenting sugar? It doesn’t appear that way — bees just seem to enjoy getting smashed hard. Charles Abramson of Ohio State University told Newscientist that while most animals need to be coaxed into drinking alcohol, “we can get [bees] to drink pure ethanol, and I know of no organism that drinks pure ethanol – not even a college student.”

A bee, he adds, will drink the equivalent of a human downing 10 liters of wine in a single sitting. Flawless work ethic indeed!

Puff puff porpoise

Dolphins… like to pass toxic pufferfish around to get high.

The behavior was first reported on by marine biologist Lisa Steiner in 1995. She was studying a group of rough-toothed dolphins roughly in the region of the Azores when she noticed that some of them were pushing an inflated pufferfish around and rubbing their faces against it. Which was an odd sight, as that pufferfish uses one of the most lethal substances on Earth, tetrodotoxin, to protect itself from, among others, dolphins. Later on, Steiner would hypothesize that the dolphins were only exposed to tiny amounts of tetrodotoxin, and this resulted in a high, not death. Which is an ideal outcome in my book.

It’s still unclear whether the dolphins are actually getting a chemical kick out of the pufferfish or if they’re just harassing the poor animal for sport. The main points of contention are that tetrodotoxin isn’t known to cross the brain-blood barrier, and that it’s extremely deadly — one pufferfish contains enough to kill 30 full-grown people. However, in episode two of the BBC One documentary film, “Dolphins: Spy in the Pod,” a group of dolphins was filmed hunting pufferfish and biting into it but not eating it, then sharing the fish with their mates.

So this one is still a bit up in the air. But no matter whether the fish is used as a drug or a simple toy, given how toxic it is, it’s definitely dangerous.

These are a few of the more unusual stories of animals binging, but they’re certainly not the only ones. Jaguars like to chew on the roots of yagé vines — a main component of the hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca — and their diminutive cousins love catnip. And, well, humans are animals too. While it’s definitely a lot of fun reading about their shenanigans, hangovers aren’t, so enjoy your own real-life shenanigans in moderation.

A Christmas tragedy: The Arctic has lost 2.6 million reindeer over the past 20 years

The Arctic is changing unnaturally fast, and neither reindeer nor caribou can keep up with it.

Image in public domain.

Santa’s helpers need some help themselves — the magnificent Arctic reindeer numbers are in sharp decline, and the consequences can be devastating for their entire ecosystem. Since the mid-1990s, the size of reindeer and caribou herds has declined by 56%, from an estimated 4.7 million animals to 2.1 million. It’s the lowest number since monitoring began.

“Five herds,” out of 22 monitored “in the Alaska-Canada region, have declined more than 90 percent and show no sign of recovery,” according to the latest Arctic Report Card from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, out Tuesday. “Some herds have all-time record low populations since reliable record keeping began.”

Reindeer and caribou are the same species: Rangifer tarandus. These animals are known not only for their magnificent antlers, but also for their impressive journeys, in which they travel thousands of miles looking for food. They reshape the vegetation by grazing and are important not only to other animals in the same environment but also to local people, to whom they are a source of food and livelihood.

Normally, the decline of reindeer populations shouldn’t really be surprising — they can fluctuate greatly, researchers say. But this time, it’s different . The losses are simply too high to dismiss as a natural process.

“The fact that these herds are declining shouldn’t be a shock — they do it all the time,” Russell said by phone from the Yukon territory in Canada. “But they’re at such low levels, you start to be concerned. […] If we return in 10 years and [their numbers] have gone down further, that would be unprecedented.”

The reasons for this decline are complex are involve a combination of climate change, hunting, disease, and low food availability — a group of problems which go hand in hand. The final straw, it seems, might be that global warming is causing longer, hotter summers. These warmer summers facilitate the spread of disease and place extra stress on the caribou.

“Warmer summers also have adverse effects through increased drought, flies and parasites, and perhaps heat stress leading to increased susceptibility to pathogens and other stressors,” the report notes.

If we take a step back, what’s happening to these reindeer populations is representative of the large-scale problems faced by most wildlife on Earth. Earth’s wilderness has decreased at an alarming level, with recent reports showing that we’ve wiped out almost all the planet’s wild areas — the average vertebrate population has declined by 60% since 1970.

The Arctic, too, is changing — faster than any other ecosystem — and it’s not clear if the caribou can adapt in time.

It’s so hot in Finland’s Lapland the reindeer have hit the beach

The heatwave in Finland is causing some unusual scenes: a pair of reindeer were spotted on the beach in northern Finland.

They bother no one and no one bothers them. Image credits: This is Finland.

It’s been a sizzling couple of days in Scandinavia. The heatwave that’s been ravaging central and western Europe has migrated northwards, making for some tropical days in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Authorities have issued heat warnings, urging people to stay indoors if possible and stay hydrated. But humans aren’t the only ones affected by the scorching temperatures.

In Finland, authorities have warned motorists to be mindful of moose, who are crossing more roads than usual in their attempts to find water and quench their thirst. Elsewhere, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported earlier this week of reindeer “queuing at the Kela office” — after a group of reindeer gathered outside a social benefits agency in a Lapland village of Inari to stand in the shade.

But without a doubt, the star of the show were the two reindeer that sought some respite from the heat on a beach in Lapland — Finland’s northernmost region known for its Christmas spirit and its reindeer. They didn’t seem to care about anything other than cooling down.

“Many people took photos and it didn’t seem to bother them in the slightest. Children were playing nearby and that didn’t disturb them either,” said Johanna Koivisto, who snapped a picture of the resting duo.

Koivisto said she wasn’t surprised too surprised to see reindeer at the beach — it’s become quite a common sight, as temperatures in Finland continues to rise. Temperatures at the beach were around 28 °C (82 F).

The annual Finnish mean temperature has risen 2.3 °C since preindustrial times. Warming has been greatest in early winter, nearly 5 °C, but summer temperatures are harder to bear for wildlife. The month of July 2018 in Finland had the highest-ever temperatures recorded by the Finnish Meteorological Institute since recordings started in 1838, although this month is very similar.

July temperatures in Finland average 13 to 17°C (55-63 F), but pass 30°C in some parts during heatwaves. The northernmost municipality of Utsjoki, north of the Arctic Circle, experienced a record-breaking temperature of 33.3 °C (92 °F) in July 2018.

As for reindeer, the pair that made it to the beach can consider themselves lucky. The climate crisis which our world is facing is devastating for reindeer populations,  and more than 50% of their population has collapsed  over the past few decades. Reindeer in Lapland, like those all over the Arctic, are finding it extremely difficult to cope with the high temperatures.

Bâton percé.

Ornamented, stone-age rod found in Poland hints at inter-group collaboration, possibly trade

An ornamented bâton percé recovered by archaeologists at a site in Gołębiewo, Poland, hints at a much greater interregional collaboration in Central Europe in the Mesolithic than previously assumed.

Bâton percé.

The bâton percé found at the Gołebiewo site, Poland.
Image credits J. Kuriga et al., PLOS One, 2017.

Bâton percé’s are a bit of a pickle, archaeologically-speaking. The term refers to a very specific class of prehistoric artifacts, which are made from a length of antler with a round hole drilled in one end, and often adorned with abstract or animal designs. So far, so good, but their purpose still remains a mystery. The debate is quite old and quite heated. These batons were initially known as ‘de commandement’, or ‘of command’, as archaeologists believed they acted as a scepter to indicate status and power. Since then, the term has fallen out of use as it was more of an assumption rather than a deduced role, and a stretch at that. As André Leroi-Gourhan wrote in 1967, calling it a rod of command conjures the image of “an aged general” busy directing “an assault on a mammoth.”

Our current best bet is that they were spear-throwers, and until we can be sure, we’ve taken to calling them bâton percé, or, ‘pierced rod’.

The Gołębiewo rod was carved from a piece of antler approximately 8,800 years ago. It’s 30.5 cm long with an oval cross-section and has a diameter of roughly 1.8 to 2.0 cm (0.7-0.78 in) at the base, 2.1 to 2.4 cm (0.82-0.94 in) over the middle stretch, and goes up to 2.9 cm (1.14 in) near the perforation.

“The ornaments on its backside were made in a horizontal arrangement along the axis of the product by cutting or carving,” the authors, led by Nicolaus Copernicus University researcher Grzegorz Osipowicz, write. “They cover an area from the drilled perforation to the point located approximately 3 cm above the base of the bâton percé.”

“Originally, the ornaments covered 10 asymmetric triangles with oblique striations similar in shape and size, situated in a horizontal line, the so-called triangles on a line, filled with oblique shading. The second lowest triangle was partially removed (by whittling). All triangles are filled by 4 to 6 incisions (mostly 5) that are parallel to the shortest side.”

The first step the team took was to discover the origin of the antler used in the rod came from. Dr. Osipowicz and his colleagues performed DNA and isotope analyses on the artifact, and report the antler is from a reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). Dispersion analysis estimate that at the time this item was produced (during the early Holocene), reindeer range was limited to northern Scandinavia and north-western Russia.

“This may suggest that the artifact was transported from North Karelia to Central Poland,” Dr. Osipowicz said. “The reasons why this artifact was transported are subject to speculation, but our results are possible evidence for the flow of goods between hunter-gatherer groups at a large distance.”

Sadly, the exact route the antler followed from North Karelia to Central Poland, and the reason why it was transported “remain impossible to determine conclusively.” However, the findings are still quite exciting. They’re the first real evidence of a flow of goods between groups in the early Holocene over such great distances. The finding joins the discovery of complicated trading networks in stone-age Vietnam and early Copper Age-Europe, showing yet again that ancient people weren’t the reclusive, fragmented bunch that we usually imagine them as.

The paper “Origin of the ornamented bâton percé from the Gołębiewo site 47 as a trigger of discussion on long-distance exchange among Early Mesolithic communities of Central Poland and Northern Europe” has been published in the journal PLOS One.