Cannibalism means eating one or more members of the same species. Cannibalism is inherent in almost all representatives of wildlife and people. The term “cannibalism” or “cannibal” comes from the name “Kanib” or caribou,” the name of the West Indian tribe where the Spanish first observed the custom of cannibalism. Although the term originated in relation to anthropophagy, it now applies to the entire animal kingdom.
In zoology cannibalism is a common ecological interaction of animals. In animals, as in humans, cannibalism is a means of survival and the preservation of life. Some animals eat their own children, brothers, sisters, in case of famine or competition for living space. Unlike the previous idea of cannibalism, it is not only the result of an extreme shortage of food or living space, and usually occurs among different species of animals under normal conditions.
Scientists agree that cannibalism is very common among many species of wildlife. Cannibalism is particularly common among aquatic populations, in which up to 90% of organisms practiced cannibalism in some parts of the life cycle. Cannibalism is not limited to carnivorous species, but also occurs among herbivores. Another common form of cannibalism is infanticide. Classic examples of infanticide occurs among chimpanzees, where a group of adult males kills and eats young representatives of the species, and also among the lions, where adult females usually kill the cubs when adopting new harem after replacing the previous dominant males.
More general form of cannibalism is consumption by larger animal species of smaller or younger animals of the same species. Among animal populations, structured by size, cannibalism may be the cause of 8 % to 95% mortality rate, making it an essential and very important factor in the dynamics of population growth. Thus, there is usually structured cannibalism among octopuses, bats, frogs, fish, salamanders, crocodiles, spiders, crustaceans, birds, mammals, and a great number of insects, such as, for example, diving beetles and others. Zoologist Hans Hass, studying the population of sharks, proposed a new category of animal cannibalism: intrauterine cannibalism. This term describes the ability of unborn embryos of sharks to eat other embryos in the womb. This type of cannibalism is actually a common method of struggle for survival.
In animal cannibalism, a form of sexual cannibalism can be noted: female consumes male after mating. This type of cannibalism observed among spiders, scorpions, praying mantis, and others.
In the animal world, the phenomenon of cannibalism is also found among bacteria. Some species, such as Bacillus subtilis and Myxococcus xanthus, have a complex genetic system that allows for lack of food “eat” portion of the population to allow the rest to survive to the stage where they can form spores.
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