15 Cannibalistic Animals That Eat Their Own For A Variety Of Disturbing Reasons

Published September 19, 2017
Updated November 7, 2023

From chimps to sharks to hamsters, these cannibal animals kill and eat their own for a variety of disturbing reasons.

Chimp eating meat
Rabbit in the grass
Praying mantis eating another praying mantis
Polar beat eating a bear Cannibal animals
15 Cannibalistic Animals That Eat Their Own For A Variety Of Disturbing Reasons
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Cannibalism remains one of the most enduring and universal taboos in all of Western culture. While the idea of eating one's own kind is often met with disgust among humans, the practice is actually quite common among certain members of the animal kingdom.

The eating habits of these cannibal animals all tend to stem from an inherent survival instinct, and most instances occur either right around the birth of young or shortly after copulation. The mating habits of the praying mantis, and several species of spiders, for example, will sometimes involve the female of the pair bite off and consume the head of her mate shortly after becoming inseminated in an effort to nourish herself and prepare her body for gestating offspring.

Other cannibal animals will eat their own babies, for a variety of reasons. Some will turn to their own as a food source when rations elsewhere are scarce, as is the case with scorpions, who can have around 100 offspring to provide for. By sacrificing a few, the mother gives the majority of the group a better chance at survival.

Some animal mothers, mainly nesting animals such as rabbits and hamsters, will eat sickly, weak, or dead babies left in the nesting area in an effort to deter predators, who would be lured in by the smell, from entering their domain.

In a few instances, however, it's the young who turn on their mothers. Known as matriphagy, this occurrence is usually the result of extreme acts of self-sacrifice, in which the mother offers her own body for the sake of the survival of the next generation.

Some mothers will offer their bodies as a shelter for their young ones, who are forced to eat their way out from the inside. Meanwhile, certain animals, like the crab spider, even leave unfertilized eggs for their young to eat before they finish off her own body. It's a slow death but one that can result in higher survival rates for the young in the long run — horrifying yet practical, like so much of the cannibalism in the animal kingdom.

After this look at cannibal animals, read up on the Donner Party, responsible for the most infamous act of mass cannibalism in American history. Then, discover the story of Scottish cannibal Sawney Bean.

Krissy Howard
Krissy Howard is a New York-based freelance writer. She regularly contributes to Runt of the Web and her original humor has appeared on The Hard Times, Reductress, and The Hairpin.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.