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 A friend for dinner: Cannibalistic Creatures

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PostSubject: A friend for dinner: Cannibalistic Creatures   Thu Aug 28, 2008 11:19 pm

A Friend For Dinner: Cannibalistic Creatures

Strictly speaking, cannibalism is the act of eating the flesh or the eggs of a member of your own species. Whether it's a neighbor, sibling, parent, child or lover, cannibalism is practiced by many species in the animal kingdom, spanning all orders, from insects to mammals and is practiced for any number of reasons.

The infamous femme fatale, the praying mantis, has made sexual cannibalism quite famous by munching on her mate during and after the mating process. Why does she do this? Well, most sexual cannibalism is either because the female needs the meal in order to successfully reproduce and the male has served his function, or just a matter of the female being so much larger than the male that she preys upon him as a meal like any other.

Youngsters often bare the brunt of cannibalistic behavior. It is used to keep populations in check. This self-regulation ensures that the overall population stays healthy and doesn't compete too much for food and resources. Other times, youngsters are culled in order to free mothers to conceive more readily.

One is constantly surprised by the diversity of reasons in nature for which cannibalistic behavior exists. Here are a couple of examples of creatures that you may not have even realized use cannibalism as part of their lifestyle.


British wildlife officials are concerned that river otters are showing signs of cannibalism and infanticide. This has not been the modus operandi of the otters in the past, and researchers worry that negative environmental factors have threatened the sanity of the population.


The mass-deaths of herbivore hippo pods in Uganda due to anthrax may have been made more lethal due to some unusual cannibalism instances. The theory is hippos, stressed from overcrowding, have taken to eating meat, including impala and other hippos that have died of anthrax.

Sea Lions

Instances of cannibalistic behavior often seem to occur in very stressed populations. The sea lions of New Zealand are an endangered species and researchers don't know why adult males are targeting seal pups, but it is of grave concern.


Captive animals often exhibit odd behavior, and tigers are no exception. Zoo tigers have been known to eat their young, although the reasons are unclear.


Ants colonies will often fight amongst themselves. When a rival ant queen is killed, the queens of some species will eat the queen, eggs and larvae. This allows the surviving queen the nutrients she needs to produce more baby ants and keep her colony strong.


Species like butterflies go through a metamorphosis. At different stages, they are known to prey upon their own species. Monarch caterpillars will eat Monarch Butterfly eggs as part of its constant munching before it cocoons itself and becomes a butterfly.


Despite herbivore status, rabbits have been known to eat their young. It occurs most often with stressed new mothers. Disruption of the nest, loud noises, unusual smells, visits from pets, an unbalanced diet and lack of water can lead to this kind of behavior.

Japanese Macaque

A recent study found that at least five primate species, including Japanese Macaque, baboon, chimp and gorilla, engage in cannibalism. However, its unclear if this is truly cannibalism or mostly infanticide as only in some cases are the young consumed.


Crows and ravens have been known to target the eggs and young of rivals in order to make it more likely they will breed successfully. Several gull species which live in large nesting colonies, where competition for food is fierce, will regularly prey upon chicks and eggs.
Some bird parents, like the Bearded Vulture, have worked cannibalism to their advantage to feed their young. They hatch two eggs, about a week apart, and the stronger chick then brow-beats the younger sibling until it starves to death. Then it becomes big brother's next meal.


Lions engage in cannibalism for a number of reasons from starvation and to new dominant males taking over a pride. In this case, he kills off the newborn cubs in order father his own cubs and pass on his own, stronger genes, instead. When he eats the cub, it would be classified as cannibalism, however if he just kills it, it's considered infanticide.

Grizzly Bears

With grizzlies, it's the cubs that have to watch out. When a grizzly male wins mating rights with a female with cubs, he may, on occassion, kill off her cubs, thus forcing the female to be able to breed with him sooner. This is one of the key factors in cub mortality.

Sandtiger Sharks

Sandtiger sharks get a little snacking in before they are even born. The fetus feeds on the yolk sac and eggs. As baby sharks develop little teeth, they eat other, smaller siblings, ensuring it is the strongest young survive to birth. This is a process called intrauterine cannibalism.

Polar Bears

When you live in a barren environment on ice, you need to take your meals as they come. With global warming, the bears have to trek farther in order to catch seals, and sometimes, they look to their own for survival.

Komodo Dragon

An opportunistic meat-eater, the Komodo Dragon needs to eat but relies on stealth in order to catch its prey. It doesn't have the luxury of turning down a meal, and the younger dragons are not excluded from the menu.


Some species, like the croc, use cannibalism to regulate their population. Larger crocs prey on the juveniles, which keeps their numbers stable, and their other food sources and resources from becoming scarce.


Let's not forget that humans have been known, on occassion, to eat one another. In some cases, it's part of the culture, but other times, it's a matter of survival.

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Dark Jjay

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PostSubject: Re: A friend for dinner: Cannibalistic Creatures   Wed Sep 03, 2008 9:43 pm

Looks to me like most of the species you named use cannibalism as a last resort or as croud control. And it's not that bad of an idea really. That way, the members of a population, like the weak, crippled and the dead, that would otherwise be "useless" can still end up as nutrition for other members of the species.
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PostSubject: Re: A friend for dinner: Cannibalistic Creatures   Thu Sep 04, 2008 12:26 am

I'm not saying it's a bad thing. I think it's a part of nature, and the taboos around it are not that necessary. But no matter for what reason it is done, cannibalism is just a term used to describe the eating of flesh of a member of your own species.
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