Taxonomic Distribution

Cannibalism is widespread in nature. It occurs in bacteria, protozoans, invertebrates, and vertebrates, including humans. A varying number of accounts have been published for most groups. Our review of 1000 published papers for the period 2001-05 revealed a wide disparity in attention to this behavior in these taxa. In our brief survey, we found that 0.3% of the papers were on cannibalism in bacteria, 0.5% on protozoans, 0.3% on cnidarians, 0.3% on echinoderms, 0.4% on annelids, 12.6% on arachnids, 21.6% on insects, 2.3% on mollusks, 10.6% on crustaceans, 0.5% on protochordates, 32.9% on fishes, 6.4% on amphibians, 3.9% on reptiles, 2.3% on birds, and 5.0% on mammals (including 16 papers on humans). There are no apparent trends by habitat, as many terrestrial, freshwater, and marine taxa are represented. Notably, many of the publications on insects focused on economically important pests and aspects of biocontrol. Several publications on birds and mammals focused on domestic poultry, pigs, and rabbits (which were not counted in this survey). Cannibalism is a serious problem for the domestic animal and fisheries industries due largely to the crowded conditions under which these animals are kept. Colonies of mice and rats used for medical research are also plagued by this behavior. Undoubtedly, cannibalism is more widespread than these initial numbers indicate. They do show, however, that this behavior needs to be investigated further in many taxa, and that the environmental and social contexts in which cannibalism occurs vary dramatically. Elucidation of the proximal causes of cannibalistic behavior is a ripe field of inquiry for animal and human psychology. Evaluation of such causes must be considered in light of ecological and social contexts in all of these groups.

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