Why Do Animals Eat Their Babies?


Hi, this is Emily from MinuteEarth. Sometimes, a hamster mom looks at her adorable
little babies and is like, ‘I just want to gobble you up’—except not in a cute way…more
in an “I’M ACTUALLY ABOUT TO EAT YOU” way. Hamster moms are not alone—pigs, bugs, birds,
snakes, primates, and fish all occasionally nom on the next generation. Which is weird. Not just because we humans consider it deeply
wrong to eat our own babies, but also because making babies is the primary goal of virtually
all life, so eating them, and the genes they carry, seems like the ultimate act of self
defeat. But self-defeating impulses have a pretty
straightforward way of dying out, so the fact that species across the animal kingdom occasionally
cannibalize their young suggests that it can sometimes be a successful strategy. For instance, hamsters appear to use baby-eating
as a form of crowd control: females with litters of 8 or 9 pups eat two of them, on average. And when scientists have tried adding a couple
pups to the litter, the hamster moms eat four. But removing a few pups the day they’re
born pretty much stops the cannibalism before it starts—suggesting that a hamster mom
eats her young to keep her litter small enough that she can provide for the survivors and
ensure they grow up to pass on their genes. Other critters, like the Long-tailed Sun Skink,
chow down on their babies only in emergencies. When predators repeatedly threaten to eat
the mother’s eggs, she beats them to it and eats them all herself. Which actually makes sense: if the eggs are
doomed to become someone’s lunch, making them HER lunch helps prepare the mama skink for
another round of reproduction. And sometimes, kids, you know, get in the
way, so they just have to go. The male sand goby fertilizes eggs from multiple
females over a short period of time and cares for them all together in one nest. In order to mate again, he has to wait for
all his eggs to hatch, so he sacrifices the slowpokes to free himself up for more baby-making. In short, for critters across the animal kingdom
to maximize the resources, energy and opportunities they need to pass on their genes, sometimes
it does make sense to order off of the kid’s menu. This video was sponsored by Audible.com, the
leading provider of audiobooks, with over 250,000 downloadable titles. Annnd, on the topic of eating one’s own
kind, maybe you’ll want to check out Audible’s audiobook version of “Miracle in the Andes,”
the harrowing first-person account of a high-altitude plane crash in the mountains of Peru, and
the 72-day-long struggle for survival that followed. Download “Miracle in the Andes,” or another
book of your choice for free, by going to audible.com/minuteearth and signing up for
a 30-day trial membership. And thanks for watching!

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