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'High' wallabies accused of making crop circles after eating poppies in Tasmania

June 25, 2009 |  2:11 pm

Wallaby Poppy growners in the Australian state of Tasmania have long wondered about a strange phenomenon. The crop circles that have been known to, well, crop up in poppy fields have even inspired legends, the Mercury of Hobart, Tasmania, reports. Like crop circles elsewhere in the world, the poppy circles were mysterious, but no answers were forthcoming. 

Mystery solved ... maybe. 

Tasmania supplies about half of the world's legally-produced opium, which is made from poppies and used to make painkillers like morphine. But, of course, it's important to safeguard the plant, which is used not only in legal painkillers, but also to produce heroin. 

Security for the poppy plants was the subject of discussion at a recent parliamentary hearing, which took an unexpected turn when Lara Giddings, attorney general of Tasmania, spoke of a strange discovery.

"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," Giddings told those assembled. "Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high."

So ... high wallabies hopping in circles cause the crop-circle phenomenon? Not everyone believes the story, but other animals -- deer and sheep, for example -- have been known to enjoy the poppy plant and act strangely afterward.

The magnificently named Lyndley Chopper, a 30-year poppy-growing veteran and recent retiree, told Australia's ABC News that he'd witnessed odd behavior from area wallabies who'd been in his fields.  "They would just come and eat some poppies and they would go away. They'd come back again and they would do their circle work in the paddock," Chopping said. 

But the former poppy grower didn't seem concerned about the idea of chemical dependence on the part of the wallabies. "They seem to know when they've had enough," he recalled of his encounters with the small kangaroo relatives. "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 behavior."

Rick Rockliff, operations manager for Tasmania's largest poppy-producing company, told the Mercury that "growers take this very seriously but there has been a steady increase in the number of wild animals and that is where we are having difficulty keeping them off our land."

Whether or not the wallabies are actually to blame for the crop circles, the idea certainly makes for good jokes. "I have seen a stoned wallaby but I don't know about them making crop circles," reader Dijon wrote on a BBC message board on the subject. "The one I saw was slurring his words and asking me for a dollar as he was trying to get the boat to see his brother in New Zealand -- he looked in no mood to be formulating a series of complex agricultural design patterns."

Reader Alan Rees chimed in, "I was traveling in Tasmania in the summer of last year and witnessed what I believed as dancing wallabies. I was intoxicated at the time and so put it down to the poppies I had consumed earlier that day. However after reading this article that experience made a lot of sense."

As for us, we don't know whom to believe -- but we do know that the term "hophead" suddenly seems much more appropriate.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A wallaby at an Australian sanctuary. Credit: Associated Press

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