Researchers have been fascinated with nature in all of its brutality. Although a strict taboo in civilized and modern human societies, cannibalism is a fairly common occurrence in the animal kingdom. It is interesting to note that it is not just carnivorous species who practice cannibalism. Herbivores, omnivores and detritivores have also been known to practice cannibalism.
Recently, Dr. Leejiah Dorward, a zoologist affiliated with London’s Imperial College observed two hippopotamuses feeding on the decaying carcass of another hippopotamus. Thus, even herbivores such as the hippopotamus might show cannibalistic behavior.
Cannibalism generally occurs in those environments which offer poor nutritional prospects to its residents. As a result, animals within this sort of environment have to resort to cannibalism just to survive.
For example, polar bears that live in the harsh and brutal conditions of the Arctic Circle, are known to practice cannibalism in dire situations. The same is also true for tiger salamanders, a reptilian species that can be found all over the North American continent. Few incidents of cannibalism is also reported in snakes, birds and chimpanzees.
A form of cannibalism between opposite sexes of the same species also does exist, which is called sexual cannibalism. Ecological factors such as food and mate availability may primarily influence cannibalism by affecting the benefit of cannibalism for females. According to Shawn M. Wilder from the Department of Zoology, Miami University, Oxford, Phylogenetic factors such as feeding mode, sexual size dimorphism, certain mating behaviors, and genetic constraints may influence the vulnerability of the male to the female or the propensity of females to attack males.
Sexual cannibalism is generally portrayed by gastropod species and spiders, such as the black widow and Redback spider. After or during mating, the sexual partner is killed and devoured. Usually, it is the female animal that kills and devours their mate. This behavior is also notably displayed by the praying mantis. A staggering 90% of all praying mantises display some form of sexual cannibalism. This sort of sexual cannibalism is also displayed by other reptilian species such as the scorpion.
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