It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, what with evolving ecosystems, loss of habitats, and overall human effects on the greater animal kingdom. So can you really blame an animal for sometimes turning on its own kind?
There are a variety of reasons animals engage in cannibalism, from stories of survival, stress and sex, to stranger tales of mother-baby relationships gone wrong. In no particular order, here are 11 cannibalistic animals that we’re morbidly fascinated by and what makes them turn on one another.
These animals are our closest relatives, but that doesn’t mean we feel the same way about our babies as they do. In 1976 Jane Goodall realized that some chimps chomp down on their young for a variety of mysterious reasons, from nutrition, to overcrowding, to dominance issues. It’s a shocking practice that has been witnessed by biologists in the years since.
These fluffy fur-balls may be cute, but mess up their living space and they turn deadly. Mother rabbits have been known to eat stillborn or weak babies to keep her nest tidy, especially if there are predators nearby or she’s super stressed out. (Or super hungry, super cold, or super thirsty.) The moral of the story? Keep your procreating pet rabbits happy.
We’ve all heard tales of female praying mantises eating their lovers following coitus, which puts a whole new meaning on the term “working up an appetite.” But while the practice is indeed one that some females partake in, it’s actually not a black-and-white issue. Sometimes no one is consumed. Sometimes the male eats the female following the deed. And sometimes the female will rip the male’s head off just before performing the actual act (he can still finish). Kinky.
These venomous spiders have an apt name in terms of losing their partners following mating, but the reason is kind of sinister. These spiders are notorious cannibals that consume their smaller, male counterparts after they’ve had sex, perhaps to help nourish the 500 or so babies they’re now responsible for rearing. Mind you it’s not totally fair to single out black widows as cannibals here; the practice is a common one among all female spiders.
The act of eating frogs is referred to as anuraphagy, although when frogs do it we can probably still just refer to it as cannibalism. These amphibians will indeed eat one another, but only when given a particular reason. Larger frogs eat smaller ones for example, and the overall chance of frog cannibalism increases by 40 per cent if one frog is from a different area of the pond.
Before you fly the coop, know that chicken cannibalism isn’t common practice, but it can happen under conditions of duress. Chickens peck each other in order to establish dominance and hierarchy (hence the term “pecking order”), and all that pecking can lead to torn flesh. Sometimes that will in turn evolve into cannibalism—especially in cases of overcrowding, disease, or poor food and water conditions.
Never trust a tiger… a tiger salamander that is. When the animals are just four weeks old they can actually morph to develop a wider head and bigger teeth in order to eat their fellow salamanders, especially if they’re somehow separated from kin or under stressful conditions. Baby’s got bite y’all.
They may be a popular household pet, but hamsters—all species of hamsters—are quite likely to kill and eat one another. It’s all tied to territory and space. A female will devour her young if she believes her territory is threatened, she has too many babies to take care of, or if any of them are sick or weak. Sophie’s Choice much?
Sand Tiger Sharks
Baby sharks might be having a moment, but they’re not as cute as the popular preschool song would have you believe. The developing embryos of many species of sharks will feed on the surrounding, unfertilized eggs in order to develop. But when it comes to sand tiger sharks, the biggest embryo actually feeds on all of the other developed embryos until it’s the only one left standing. Talk about sibling rivalry.
The little creatures that strike fear into grown adults everywhere should strike fear in one another, too. When earwigs are born they’re prone to eating their mothers, who actually sacrifice themselves to their littles in order to provide food. That’s not the only case of earwig cannibalism though—the critters will also turn on and devour their young whole in some grizzly situations.
Snakes get hangry, and when they get hangry anything goes for dinner—and that includes pieces of other snakes or even themselves. That kind of self-mutilation is still puzzling to scientists, although they believe that overheating could be one of the reasons to blame. Shudder.