Crop circles have long been one of the world’s great mysteries, but we have finally found an explanation — at least in Tasmania. It seems that wallabies, smaller relatives of kangaroos, are raiding poppy fields in the Australian island state. The creatures feast on the opium latex-rich seed pods of the distinctive pink flowers and then blunder through the crops in a stoned stupor.
The phenomenon has authorities wondering if they need to address the issue. “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,” Tasmanian Attorney-General Lara Giddings said at a 2009 parliamentary hearing on poppy security.
“Then they crash,” Giddings said. “We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high.”
Farmers confirmed the wallabies’ opiate-seeking behavior.
“They would just come and eat some poppies and they would go away,” retired farmer Lyndley Chopping said to ABC Australia. “They’d come back again and they would do their circle work in the paddock. They seem to know when they’ve had enough. They’ll still be around and they would leave them alone. It’s hard to work out. Didn’t seem to be any real pattern to their behaviour.”
About half the world’s legally produced opium comes from Tasmanian poppies, in a business worth $80 million per year to island farmers down under. Poppies grown in Tasmania are used to make about a quarter of the world’s codeine and morphine, 85 percent of Oxycontin and related drugs and all the oripavine, a drug used for overdose and addiction treatment, according to the New York Times. Seventy-five percent of global opiate painkiller sales are to the United States.
The United Nations and the Australian government impose heavy regulations on the poppy industry to keep the crops from ending up on the black market, but they aren’t as stringent when it comes to non-human animals. Sheep, deer and other wildlife also reportedly exhibit bizarre behavior after chowing down in the poppy fields, and if the seed pods are left in the fields too long, sulphur-crested cockatoos fly in and gorge themselves.
The rise in popularity of OxyContin in recent decades has resulted in a three-fold increase in Tasmania’s poppy crop since the 1990s, and production is slated to expand to mainland Australia soon, the NYT reports. Keep an eye peeled for stories of kangaroos, dingos and koala bears stumbling around the Commonwealth after indulging in the intoxicating cash crop.