Cannibalism is one of the strangest, most horrifying practices that still prevail in the world. While the very thought of one human being eating other grosses us out, in the animal kingdom, it is considered to be much more common and is often treated as natural.
Unlike us, this might be because the animals don’t have a complex moral compass and simply do what is necessary to survive in the world.
Although we might be able to justify cannibalism among the animals just for a second, what about the animals that eat their own babies?
It might come as a surprise to many, but there are many animals that practice filial cannibalism (a phenomenon in which a parent kills and eats its offspring) for all kinds of strange and unfathomable reasons.
In this article, we are going to talk about some of these animals and explore their reasons behind eating their own babies.
Historically referred to as the “white bear”, the polar bears are a vulnerable bear species that inhabit the Arctic Circle. These bears are not only the largest living species of bears but also the largest living terrestrial carnivores.
Although they are closely related to the brown bears, the polar bears have evolved in order to adapt to the cold temperature of the Arctic region.
Because the polar bears spend most of their lives on the sea ice, their binominal name can be translated to “maritime bear” in English. These bears are sexually dimorphic, with the boar being considerably larger in size than the sow and twice as heavy.
Polar bears, being hypercarnivores, are the most carnivorous members of the bear family. They mainly feed on seals (both ringed and bearded).
Why do polar bears eat their babies?
The polar bears were not cannibals since the beginning of time; in fact, the mother bears have been known to love their cubs fiercely.
However, as we all know, the climatic change caused due to global warming has impacted the environment of the polar regions most adversely.
The increasing temperature at the poles has caused the ice plains to melt, which has made it very difficult for the bears to hunt for food. And it is the scarcity of food resources that has led these bears to turn on each other.
The male polar bears have seen preying on their little cubs more than the females. They pick the cubs because they are weak and defenseless and will not stand a chance against them. In some cases, the males are also known to attack the females.
Lions are the most ferocious members of the feline family that belong to the Panthera genus (consisting of tigers, leopards, and jaguars).
They are more diurnal than the other members of their family, and typically inhabit grasslands and savannahs. Once abundant, these big cats are currently placed in the vulnerable species list by the IUCN.
Considered to be both keystones as well as apex predators, lions can feed on a wide variety of animals, although their diet mainly comprises zebras, giraffes, African buffaloes, blue wildebeests, and gemsboks.
Why do the lions eat their babies?
In the lion community, only the males are known to feed on the cubs, not the females. There are two most probable reasons behind the males eating their cubs.
The first one states that they do it in order to bring the female back into their estrous cycle. This is because right after they give birth to the cubs, the females stay close to them and protect them fiercely.
During this period, they’re not receptive to any males. And since the males do not want to wait for the females to become receptive again, they kill their cubs.
Another reason for the males to eat the cubs is when they take on pride of lionesses. The males usually prefer to have their own cubs with all the lionesses of the pride, so they kill the cubs of other lions that the females are caring for. Although it is not very common among the lions, it still happens.
Often referred to as simply “chimps”, the chimpanzees are members of the great ape family that are endemic to the tropical forests of Africa. They are large and robust primates with their entire body being covered in coarse black hair, except their face, fingers, toes, palms of their hands, and soles of their feet.
Although the chimps can be broadly categorized with the omnivores, they are primarily frugivores that prefer eating fruits above all other food items. Other than fruits, they are also seen eating seeds, leaves and leaf buds, pith, resin, honey, and soil.
Very rarely do the chimps turn to eat insects, birds (and their eggs), and medium-sized mammals, sometimes including other primates as well.
Why do chimpanzees eat their babies?
Among all the great apes, the chimpanzees are known for resorting to cannibalism most frequently. Although there’s not enough data about a male chimp eating its own infant, males have often been spotted killing and eating the infants of other females.
9 out of 10 times, the females belong to their own group. Eating infants from other groups is not common among them. The scarcity of food resources is one of the main reasons behind chimps eating their infants; the infants are an easy source of nutrition for the males.
The adult chimps are also seen killing each other during fights, but they don’t consume the corpse of their adult enemies.
Rabbits are small, cuddly creatures that are might share some similarities with rodents but are actually mammals. These furry little animals are considered wild prey animals and are also popularly kept as livestock and pets. There are over 300 different breeds of domestic rabbits in the world.
Rabbits are herbivore mammals that feed on flower and vegetable plants, grasses, weeds, wildflowers, and clover during the summers. However, in the winters, when there is a scarcity of vegetation, they turn towards eating buds, twigs, barks, and conifer needles.
Why do the rabbits eat their babies?
Although filial cannibalism is not very prevalent among the rabbits, there are two reasons why a mother rabbit would eat its kits. The first reason is the threat of a predator. As you can imagine, rabbits rank quite low on the food chain.
There are many wild carnivores that are always in their pursuit. When pursued by a large predator, rabbits are smart enough to flee rather than fight for their survival.
However, if a rabbit with several tiny kits is being hunted, the chances of their survival are extremely low. The mother knows this, which is why it ends up eating all its kits to remove all evidence that could be traced to her, and then flees its predator.
Another reason why a mother rabbit would eat its babies is when it can sense that the kits are sick. Under such circumstances, the mother eats the kits to reduce their sufferings, since they would have died before long anyway.
Belonging to the group of mole salamanders, the tiger salamanders are the largest terrestrial salamander species on Earth.
While their entire body is either dark brown or black in color, they have characteristic markings scattered all over, ranging from yellow to greenish-yellow in color.
They can grow to a length of 6-8 inches and are known to live as long as 15 years. The tiger salamanders mainly feed on small-to-medium-sized insects, worms, snails and slugs, and frogs.
Why do the tiger salamanders eat their babies?
Cannibalism is not an uncommon concept among adult tiger salamanders.
The roots of it can be traced back to the time when a large number of salamanders lived in the small area and often struggled with the lack of prey, which is why they began eating each other in order to get rid of the competition.
This is probably the reason why adults eat their infants as well.
Snails are members of the gastropod class that have shells large enough for them to retract into. They have a nocturnal feeding schedule and usually feed on decaying organic matter, in addition to fungi, lichens, carrion, animal feces, green foliage, worms, and centipedes.
Why do the snails eat their babies?
Snails are common practitioners of cannibalism since adult snails are known for eating slugs, and even other snail species. But can they eat their own babies as well? Yes, they can. Right after the snails lay their eggs, they suffer from a calcium deficiency.
In order to curb it, they often feed on the eggshells of their hatched eggs. At times, when these eggshells are not enough to fulfill their calcium requirements, the snails are also seen eating their unhatched eggs, thereby killing their unborn offspring.
The name “rat” is given to the group of medium-sized rodents, all of whom have characteristically long tails. These rodents have been living alongside humans for thousands of years and are opportunistic survivors.
Although they are considered to be pests in many parts of the world, many people have recently begun to keep them as pets as well. While rats are not generally cannibalistic, the scarcity of food in their surroundings might push them towards cannibalistic behavior.
Why do the rats eat their babies?
While food scarcity among rats is the central cause of their cannibalistic behavior, that is not the reason why they eat their younger ones.
Although the female rats are instinctively caring and loving towards their babies, the males do not feel the same way about them.
In a scientific study, it has been seen that male rats lack the parenting instincts in the beginning and develop them over time.
This is due to the presence of the vomeronasal organ in their brain; this organ picks up chemical signals or pheromones from their surroundings and responds to them. And the males are noticed to respond aggressively to the pheromones of the baby mice.
However, after they have spent a week or two with their younger ones, their aggression subsides, and they begin to care for their babies. But in the first week, many males end up killing their fragile offspring.
Hamsters are a group of small rodents that belong to the subfamily of Cricetinae (consisting of 7 different genera and 19 species). They are more of crepuscular beings that commonly feed on seeds, fruits, and insects.
In order to remain hidden from their predators, hamsters often remain in their underground burrows during the day. Due to their adorable appearance and easy trainability, hamsters have become quite popular as small, exotic pets.
Why do the hamsters eat their babies?
Although the mother hamsters are not keen on eating their own offspring, there are some circumstances under which they will do it. The first and most common reason for the hamsters to eat their offspring is stress.
The long process of being pregnant, giving birth, and caring for their babies is a highly stressful experience for the mother hamsters.
In such a condition, if the mother feels even slightly threatened, it might end up eating its babies almost involuntarily. Outside disturbances, be it a predator or a human, is most often the cause of over-stressing the mother hamster.
All babies of a female hamster carry its scent, which helps the mother recognize them. However, if the babies are touched by another animal or a human, their smell lingers on them. This confuses the mother, leading her to think of the offspring as an imposter and killing them.
The female hamsters are extremely hungry after going through the tiresome process of giving birth. If they don’t have access to food during this period, they might end up eating their own babies to curb their hunger.
The scorpions belong to the class of arachnids (the same class as the spiders) and are often distinguished from the other arachnids by their pincers and a narrow, segmented tail ending in a stinger.
Although they are endemic to the deserts, they have adapted to live around human settlements and can be found in most parts of the world today.
As a predatory species, the scorpions commonly feed on a large variety of insects and invertebrates, although some species are also known to prey on vertebrates. They grab their prey using their pincers and sting them with the venomous stinger attached to their tail.
Why do the scorpions eat their babies?
When the baby scorpions hatch from their eggs, their exoskeleton is still developing and is quite soft. Therefore, they ride on their mother’s back until their exoskeleton is fully developed (about 15-20 days).
During this period, if the mother doesn’t find enough food to curb their hunger, they might end up eating their own offspring. However, this is only a last resort for the mothers and doesn’t happen very often.
Known for being the most common poultry bird in the world, the chickens are the domesticated subspecies of the red junglefowl.
They are omnivores that often feed on seeds, insects, small mice, and lizards in the wild. Because of their eggs and meat, these birds are often domesticated. Nowadays, many people also keep them as pets.
Why do the chickens eat their babies?
Although chickens are not really known for their cannibalistic behavior, there have been a few instances when they have ended up eating their own eggs. But why would the chickens eat their own eggs, you ask?
Well, they normally wouldn’t. However, the process of egg-laying is extremely tiresome and stressful for the chickens. Right after they lay eggs, they face a calcium deficiency in their body.
If this deficiency is not met soon (a more common scenario in the wild), they will become desperate and might gobble up their own eggs as a calcium supplement. However, this rarely happens with healthy chickens.