What's the point of cannibalism?


44 Responses to “What's the point of cannibalism?”

  1. jphilby says:

    It’s bound to get you just the kind of nutrients you need. And it prepares you in case you wind up with an appendage in a trap.

  2. Daemon says:

    Eating your enemies makes more sense than killing them and NOT eating them. Though using them as fertilizer would have much the same benefit, with a lower risk of disease.

  3. freshacconci says:

    22 comments and not one making the most obvious reference?
    Well done.

    • laukarlueng says:

      Soylent Green is people! PEEEEPLE!!!

      And economists have an answer for this behavior. It’s called high time preference.

  4. Ed Ligget. Tuba. says:

    Heh, I was just reading about the Church of Euthanasia and then I see this article. :D Cannibalism is one of the four pillars of the church I think.

  5. Chorske says:

    The advantages of cannibalism have been studied for far longer than this article would suggest- in tiger salamanders, for instance. Tiger salamanders develop into one of two morphs, one of which is cannibalistic; it turns out that the cannibalistic morph grows and matures faster than the non-cannibalistic. The advantages are clear- as grimc points out, we are what we eat, and it makes sense to choose a diet that matches the composition of our own tissues as closely as possible.

    So why don’t more organisms perform cannibalism? Perhaps to avoid negative intraspecific interactions, or to avoid eating kin. The work on the salamanders suggests that the cannibals get more debilitating parasites. This may be true of humans as well- as nemik points out with his link to info on Kuru.

    • daen says:

      I found the Beeb article a bit wishy-washy, to be honest.

      Anyway …

      There are both benefits and disadvantages to cannibalism. The most obvious benefit is the immediate and relatively easy access to large amounts of sustenance in the form of your sibs, parents and close relatives. Also, who is competing for resources in exactly the same ecological niche as you? Why, those of the same species, that’s who! I can even see that cannibalism might even be an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS), at least in times of crisis – those who consume their nearest-and-dearest aren’t *directly* endangering their own genetic survival while ensuring that their own chance of survival is increased. If you can reproduce relatively rapidly and in sufficient numbers, there are even circumstances in which it makes sense to kill and/or consume your own offspring, because the energy input required to bring them to self-sufficiency can be allayed by their death and partial consumption, and replacements can be relatively easily produced. However, that you have such feelings of moral disgust towards such cold-heartedness simply tells you that it’s not a major part of your species’ own survival strategy …

      However, that said, there’s more to survival than just having the right genes. Those of your same species are also likely to be the ones who come to your defense in crisis – and numbers can be important when fending off predators or extraspecific competition. Also, as mentioned previously, the kinds of diseases and parasites that like to live in your relatives are probably going to thrive in you, too.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Anyone who has had children understands why some animals eat their young.

    It’s not just a joke; honestly, there are times…

  7. Nicky G says:

    I could swear that eating the brain/nervous system tissue of your own species is, like, really, really not so good for you. As in, prions and stuff. MAD COW DISEASE, MAN!

  8. Anonymous says:

    “Hamsters will eat their young if they perceive a food shortage, or if their diets do not have enough protein.”

    I’ve seen cannibalism in domesticated rabbits. Spontaneous abortion is also fairly common. My theory is that both are triggered by overcrowding and/or food shortages, but others think it’s caused by the presence of predators or humans too soon after birth.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Auto-cannibalism is not the answer, as sure as talking to yourself is the first sign of impending mental collapse.

  10. ProfessoraV says:

    tamarin monkey, not tamarind monkey.

  11. kmoser says:

    “That makes it only the third recorded case of maternal infanticide recorded in wild non-human primates. Researchers can of course only speculate about her motivation … They suspect the mother killed her baby because she knew it had a low chance of survival anyway.”

    Er, if this was only the third recorded case of maternal infanticide, maybe it was because the mother was mentally ill. Given that she “only” ate from mostly the head and ignored the rest of the body, clearly she didn’t need the nutrition. If the mother was sane, and realized the baby had a low chance of survival, she could have simply abandoned it.

  12. holtt says:

    Country Crock? Please – real butter makes it better.

    • The Life Of Bryan says:

      I will definitely avoid eating people who eat Crunchy Crotch. That stuff’s only a step away from liquid plastic and I prefer higher quality meats.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Doesn’t he know everything tastes better with Radium Brand Butter?

  14. ill lich says:

    “What’s the point of cannibalism?”

    Well duh, obviously it’s “deliciousness.”

  15. gnp says:

    Reminds me of The Reluctant Cannibal, from the old British comedy revue of Flanders and Swann.

  16. Shart Tsung says:

    I think we could legalize cannibalism as long as the cannibals promised to only consume liposuctioned fat ftw.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Tamarind is a tree. Tamarin is the primate. Cannibalization in trees! Astounding!

  18. julianafanana says:

    See? We all need to reconsider “A Modest Proposal” and this time without the satire.

  19. grimc says:

    You are what you eat.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Bite me!

  21. Anonymous says:

    anyway to find out who the dude is in the picture?

    its a little creepy how much he and i look alike, perhaps twins separated at birth?

  22. Anonymous says:

    Country Crock takes me back. We had those big tubs all they way through High School. I use real butter now, but oh the memories.

  23. HikingStick says:

    Hamsters will eat their young if they perceive a food shortage, or if their diets do not have enough protein.

    The first time my female had a litter, I had not even realized it was pregnant. It had been receiving normal amounts of food and water, but it must not have been enough: she consumed all of the babies. The next time, I increased the amount of available food, and added higher-protein snacks and dietary supplements. That litter was nursed and weaned normally, with no cannibalism.

  24. dancentury says:

    I read that spiders try to consume their newly hatched young. This benefits the species by weeding out the slow and defective. If you escape your spider mama, you are more likely to carry on mama’s genes than your slow-poke siblings.

    When the apocalypse comes (in a few weeks) I plan on setting up snares outside the local gyms, GNCs and VitaminStores. I figure that body builders have the most meat to offer, and they’re also the only creatures who can turn that powdered protein in a bucket into muscle.

    • grimc says:

      But you’re going to end up with some pretty tough meat, full of hormones. Think organic and pampered–set up outside day spas for the Kobe beef of humans.

      • dancentury says:

        Good point. If time allows I’ll put them on a diet of beer, and have my assistant massage them while reading Become What You Are by Alan Watts.

    • freshacconci says:

      Yeah, but wouldn’t all that muscle be stringy? Maybe head over to Wal-Mart…

    • MrsBug says:

      When the apocalypse comes (in a few weeks) I plan on setting up snares outside the local gyms, GNCs and VitaminStores. I figure that body builders have the most meat to offer, and they’re also the only creatures who can turn that powdered protein in a bucket into muscle.
      Too funny.

  25. Bahumat says:

    Parasites and prions. Two very good reasons to say no to cannibalism.

  26. Anonymous says:

    One observation does not constitute a basis for any kind of ethological theory. The single instance of a tamarind eating its young could be due to all manner of things: It could confer a survival advantage on the mother, but it could also just be due to some freak abnormality.

  27. Mister44 says:

    I can’t afford name brand butter substitutes. Instead of “I can’t believe it’s not butter”, I have to buy, “If this isn’t butter, what else are they lying to me about?”

  28. Anonymous says:

    eating you enemy would be a good form of torture as long as you dont kill them in the prosses but it would also be disgusting and completly horrific and so horror movie and a little uncreative

  29. nemik says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuru_(disease) is a disease largely attributed to humans. I’m pretty sure it’s not very good for us.

  30. irksome says:

    When I was 11 my hamster ate her babies, leaving only their little heads. Twenty years later, I was a heroin addict.

    You be the judge.

  31. EeyoreX says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but whenever we ask questions like “What’s the point of *insert naturally occuring behaviour*?” aren’t we venturing headfirst into Intelligent-Design-territory, albeit with another vocabulary?

    Evolution is all trial-and-error, it doesn’t follow a pre-drawn map. Nature doesn’t have a “point”, nature just IS.

    A more sensible way to phrase the question would be “What’s the point of cultural taboos against *insert naturally occuring behaviour*?” Because that is means to an end, something wich can be measured in terms of effectiveness.

    • daen says:

      Absolutely. Our own feelings of moral disgust can tell us as much about our evolutionary past and present as they do about the nausea-inducing behaviour we are observing.

    • Chorske says:

      A better question would simply be “what are the advantages of cannibalism to its practitioners?”, and it is that biological question that I addressed in my response. The problem is that the question as aksed could also be interpreted as “what is the social significance of cannibalism” or “why are taboos against cannibalism almost universal in human societies”; those questions need to be distinguished from the purely biological “why is it (sometimes?) advantageous to eat your own kind?”.

      As an aside, I was just reading an Aubrey-Maturin book (part of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series) wherein some castaways eat a dead crew member (or at least gnaw on him a bit). I totally get that- I would totally do the same.

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