Walt Disney’s 1958 nature documentary ‘White Wilderness’ had depicted lemmings (such as the Norway Lemming, Lemmus lemmus, shown in the picture below) committing suicide on a massive scale by cliff jumping. In actual fact, what is often regarded as a collective suicide in the lemmings are a misinterpretation of a “desperate massive migration (due to demographical boom, competition for food and geographical constrain) during which many die throwing themselves into the rivers, lakes and sea” (Anitei, 2007).
Humans have also noticed ‘suicides’ in the Mantises order of insects such as the European mantis, Mantis religiosa. Some female praying mantis, as shown in the video below, eats the male while copulating. Such cannibalistic mating process “only occurs 5-31% of the time” (Doughty, 2002). It is shown that male praying mantis carry out active risk assessment and change their behaviour to reduce the chance of being cannibalized.
In both cases shown above, death is not caused by an intentional act of voluntarily ending one’s own life. It might be indeed that in some cases, animals seem like they did commit suicide. It has been reported that some Philippine tarsiers, Tarsius syrichta, were so “traumatized by captivity that they killed themselves by beating their heads against the cages” (Philippine Tarsier Foundation, n.d.).
Some animals die because of their own intentional acts or inadvertently but it is difficult to conclude the act as an act of suicide. Furthermore experiments looking into whether animal suicide does exist would raise many ethical concerns. Therefore it cannot be generalised that animals do commit suicide.
- Anitei, S. (2007). Do Animals Commit Suicide?. In Softpedia. Retrieved April 3, 2010 http://news.softpedia.com/news/Do-Animals-Commit-Suicide-63441.shtml
- Doughty, M. (2002). The Female Praying Mantis: Sexual Predator or Misunderstood [Blog post]. Posted to http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/1801
- “Drumbeat” by Step back. The Oil Drum. 31 August 2006. URL: http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/8/31/91159/5660 (accessed on 1 April 2010)
- “Female praying mantis eats male after mating” by Dissotg, YouTube Channel, 9 July 2006. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYp_Xi4AtAQ (accessed on 1 April 2010)
- Philippine Tarsier Foundation. (n.d.). Philippine Tarsier. In Articles: Tarsier. Retrieved April 3, 2010 http://www.txtmania.com/articles/tarsier.php
- “Tunturisopuli Lemmus Lemmus” by Oma Kuva. Wikipedia. (n.d.). URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tunturisopuli_Lemmus_Lemmus.jpg (accessed on 1 April 2010)