Many zoologists argue that animals don’t have the same intelligence levels as human beings which would make them knowingly end their lives. They argue that the animal would have to know that the action they are taking will kill them for it to be considered suicide. However, many people have heard the story of Ric O’Barry, the dolphin trainer for the famous dolphin Kathy from the 1960s film Flipper. The trainer said he watched the sadly depressed animal sink to its death in the concrete tank after refusing to live and that is why he became an animal rights activist.
It is still undisputed that some animals knowingly express self-destructive behaviour when mating or protecting their colonies and offsprings which is natural. What people can’t explain is how an animal’s sense of self-preservation can be lost causing it to knowingly end it all. Sad as it sounds, it does happen and these are the commonly observed cases.
Wildebeest migration on the Mara River in East Africa between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara in Kenya is the largest mammal migration on the planet involving over one million animals. The animals are usually migrating North or South of the Mara River looking for fresh grazing fields because their numbers don’t allow them to stay on one side of the river all year.
While the phenomenon attracts thousands of tourists, it is also a death sentence for thousands of wildebeest and sometimes Zebra. Choosing a path to follow on the steep river banks is a tough task. Sometimes, the cliffs are just too high but the animals jump to their deaths anyway. Other animals drown in the river currents because they are just too strong to swim through but that doesn’t stop the herds from their quest. Before the route is streamlined, many animals fall to their deaths on the rocks but they help cushion the fall for those that come behind.
Aphids are pests that any kale, spinach or cabbage farmer never wants to see on their crops. They are hardened survivors though that seem to live comfortably on all continents in the world except Antarctica. The survival of the aphids owes a lot to the suicidal tendencies of members of the species though. When hoverflies or ladybirds attack aphids, some explode killing themselves and the ladybird in the process and covering the remaining members of the colony with their bodily juices. Aphids that live in tree bark colonies also explode using their own bodily fluids to close any holes in their home.
Swans are one of the bords that show emotion when one of them dies and sometimes, this show of grief becomes catastrophic. There are cases of swans falling straight from the sky onto a hard surface causing their deaths often after their loved one dies. The most distressing case on record happened in China’s Henan province when a woman recorded a young swan dipping its head into the water until it drowned next to the body of an older swan believed to be its mother. Another Swan in the US fell to its death on a car although some biologists argued that it may have mistaken the tarmacked road for a river.
Bees die when they sting human beings and animals if they threaten the safety of the hive. The bee’s sting was actually created to sting other snakes, which is why bees don’t die when they sting ants and other insects. The instinct of bees to protect hives to death doesn’t stop at stinging though. Bees have bees observed to pluck their wings when fighting against murder hornets in order to create a hot ball of air they use to kill hornets and many of the bees die in the process.
This is a strange one but it does happen more often than you can imagine. Snakes are some of the best survivors on the planet and suicidal tendencies are not their portion. However, snakes sometimes become victims of their own tools of survival. While snakes have some level of immunity to their venom, when a snake bites itself and the venom gets into its bloodstream, it dies.
There are many instances when snakes have been filmed biting themselves, mostly by mistaking their own bodies for enemy or prey. Sometimes, snakes mistake their own tails for prey and eat themselves and may end up dying if they don’t realize their mistake soon enough. The most curious cases are of snakes that just lose it and hit their heads against a hard surface until they die.
The pictures of beached whales and dolphins every year around the world as distressing. It is still unclear why whales beach themselves but one thing is obvious; when one beaches, others are likely to follow suit. Saving beached whales often doesn’t help because some end up beaching again. Sonar activity and noise from human activity in the sea has been accused of causing the animals to be distressed and beach.
There was a research that confirmed that the number of beached whales was directly proportional to sonar and other weapon tests performed by the US Navy. However, whales have been beaching since the days of Aristotle and that couldn’t be blamed on human activity. In September 2021, Hugo the orca that entertained guests at the Miami Seaquarium for 12 years hit its head against the wall of the tank it was kept in until it died. It is believed to have been in distress after spending so many years in captivity. While the answer may not come anytime soon, one thing is clear; the beaching of dolphins and whales is a form of mass suicide that remains a mystery.
How far will an ant go to protect its colony? Most will sting, bite and even throw formic acid at the threat to protect their colony. Colobopsis Explodens are a special species of ants native to Brunei that give the ultimate sacrifice to protect their nests. The small worker ants have a yellow liquid in their abdomen that has toxins that repel and even kill other invaders. When threatened, the workers explode and die to save the colony. It is not clear why these ants resort to such an extreme form of defence when they can actually sting and bite as well but you can’t fail to appreciate that level of loyalty to family.
Like human beings, dogs can suffer from stress and depression but it is rare for them to succumb to it because they have a strong survival instinct. There are cases of abandoned dogs that get so depressed that they leap off their balconies and die. A story in British newspapers back in 1845 reported that one dog in Newfoundland drowned itself in a pool after entering the water and utterly refusing to flap its legs. The dog allegedly ran back to the pool even after being saved. The most concerning cases of dog suicides happen when dogs refuse to eat after their owners leave them or die and waste away to death because of depression.
The Overtoun Bridge in Scotland, also known as The Dog Suicide bridge has seen more than 50 dogs leap from it to their deaths since the 50s. The explanation given by science is that there are minks breeding under the bridge and that the dogs leap while trying to give chase but the cases are just too isolated because minks breed under other bridges around the world and dogs don’t die there.
Living in a cage is hard on all animals which is why most of the animals you encounter at the zoo won’t be as happy as their free-roaming counterparts in the wild. It gets tougher when the animal has to endure the pain of its bile juice being extracted through a plastic tube for apparent use as medication.
The caged bears are often forced to lie on their backs forever with plastic tunes in their stomach used to extract bile which the owners sell. In 2009, one bear on a farm in Laos went on a hunger strike for 10 days apparently seeking to die and get out of the misery and it did. Animal rights activists have campaigned for most of these farms to be shut down as more cases of hunger strikes have been reported over the years.
Red back spiders are some of the most poisonous in the world but they don’t kill that many people anymore because there is antivenom all over the world. It is hard to meet a male redback spider that has mated though because once they mate with the female, they happily summersault into her fangs so she can eat them.
Committing suicide to nourish offspring is not foreign among spiders but the way male redback spiders do it is just astonishing. Some species of female spiders also seal themselves in the egg sac after laying eggs so that their young ones can feed on them when they hatch. The combined acts of suicide and cannibalism by these arachnids is just astonishing.