It’s easy to forget, but your taste buds are actually there for a reason more important than enjoying the sweetness of chocolate or the saltiness of a chip. Stuff that tastes bitter, for example, might actually be poisonous. It’s a warning that some unfortunate, small-brained creatures failed to heed in prehistoric times, even before the asteroid, according to University Of Albany evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup and his former student Michael Frederick. Phys.org reports today that in a paper published the journal Ideas In Ecology And Evolution, the two postulate that the “emergence of toxic plants combined with dinosaurs’ inability to associate the taste of certain foods with danger had them already drastically decreasing in population when the asteroid hit.”
If you’ve ever wondered why/had nightmares about how rats will be around even after all other species are dead, Gallup and Frederick point to the rodents’ strong sense of “learned taste aversion”: If rats eat something and have a bad reaction, they will avoid it afterwards. Birds have a similar skill, although they avoid the visual elements that they associate with noxious plants, like a color or spikes. Not so the dinosaurs, who kept on munching the the first flowering plants, called angiosperms, despite “gastrointestinal distress.” Not smart, dinos! Phys.org continues, “Although there is uncertainty about exactly when flowering plants developed toxicity and exactly how long it took them to proliferate, Gallup and Frederick note that their appearance coincides with the gradual disappearance of dinosaurs.” That asteroid certainly did its damage, but the scientists argue that dinosaur numbers were already failing due to their fool eating habits, and continued to drop.
So if we can take a lesson from a long-extinct species: If you sniff or smell something and it doesn’t initially appear to agree with you—leave it the hell alone.