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Defined as the intentional killing of oneself, suicide is a sad and tragic event most commonly associated with human beings. Whether animals are capable of committing suicide has been a subject of debate for hundreds of years.
Proposed Examples of Animal Suicide
(Images via: Camusnagaul, Alex Wild, BioCrawler, Dive BC)
Suicide has traditionally been thought in terms of a conscious and willful decision to live or die. To some, this idea of suicide eliminates animals from the capability of intentionally killing themselves. However, to others, animal suicide is a very realistic thing, as evident by certain events in nature and the fact that animals experience feelings such as depression. A recent study in the journal Endeavor explored a history of suggested animal suicide, noting stories from the 1800s of a depressed Newfoundland dog repeatedly trying to drown itself until succeeding, a grieving cat hanging itself after the death of its kittens, a fleeing stag leaping off a cliff rather than being swarmed by a pack of dogs, etc. In a more contemporary light, believers in animal suicide have noted flies called pea aphids exploding themselves when threatened by ladybugs, wolf spiders willingly being devoured by their young, sad whales intentionally beaching themselves, and even octopuses biting themselves to death in experimental settings.
Different Opinions on Animal Suicide
(Images via: Soda Head, James Adonis, Tico Times)
The Endeavor study notes how animals have been shown to display grief, anger, insanity and other feelings, suggesting that they are more human than people give them credit for and thus potentially capable of making “willful decisions” to kill themselves. However, what may seem like an animal killing itself to one person may be interpreted by another as an animal displaying uncharacteristic behavior as a result of an external stimuli. Consider an animal that is taken out of its natural environment and held captive in an unfamiliar setting that disrupts its natural ability to find food, which may lead to depression and an appearance that the animal has lost the will to live (see above images). To others, animal deaths may appear suicidal but be accidental (such as the scared stag mistakenly running off the cliff), or simply a natural occurrence (such as when mother octopuses and wolf spiders die shortly after birth). Opponents of animal suicide note how such deaths are done not for selfish reasons but to ensure the survival of the young. While certainly subjective, the idea of animal suicide is seemingly easy to dismiss on the surface but merits more thought and research, especially when considering how captivity, depression and other circumstances can affect animals.