Is there suicide in animals?

Suicide is one of the most common causes of unnatural death and traumatic, killing many people every year. It is a type of self-destructive behavior that has affected humans since ancient times, generating extensive research in this area in areas such as psychology or medicine, looking for the causes and ways to prevent human beings from actively seek their own death. . But this type of behavior has not been observed only in humans.

Numerous cases of animals have been documented which in some way caused their own deaths. Are these deaths the product of the will to die? Is there suicide in animals? In this article, we are going to do a brief reflection on this subject.

    Cause his own death

    Suicide is understood as the performance of a behavior or series of behaviors that they aim to cause their own death. Usually, those who realize this intend to avoid suffering when faced with a situation in which they do not have enough resources to deal with, even though there may be many reasons why someone decides to kill themselves.

    Suicide is an action which supposes the will of the own being to bring about the end of his existence, with the active intention that the behavior emitted leads to death. We have to keep the concept of death in mind, knowing that we can die and that we have the ability to self-generate. Therefore it involves a certain level of abstraction, and also of planning. It also supposes the existence of a self that wants to die, that is to say of a kind of consciousness of oneself as a being.

    These aspects have often made experts doubt whether or not suicide exists in the animal world, as there is no evidence that they possess all of these abilities. Yes, it has been observed that several species react to the death of their fellows with anguish and sorrow, but it is not known whether they are aware of their own mortality and that their behavior may lead to it.

    Are there any cases of suicide in animals?

    There have been many cases of animal suicide throughout history, or at least phenomena that have been identified as such. Since ancient times, we can see how different writings document the death of dogs by starvation after the death of their owners (which continues to happen today).

    More recently, in 1845, a case appeared in the Illustrated London News in which a dog, which had shown signs of previously rotten behavior, had thrown itself into a park’s water without intending to swim, leaving the legs still for the supposed purpose of sinking. The dog was saved, but after that he tried again. After several attempts, the dog finally sank and died. The same type of behavior has been observed in other animals, such as ducks or penguins that have lost their companion or dolphins that have lost their companion. they stopped breathing (In these beings, the breath is not semi-conscious like us but conscious and voluntary).

    Another typical example is that of lemmings, Of which an alleged mass suicide has been documented in the event of overcrowding. However, the truth is that this mass suicide is not such, but it is something that could happen accidentally when trying to migrate these animals en masse to areas with food availability and encounter different geographic features. They would try to find food, advancing for that purpose and not with the idea of ​​killing themselves. In fact, it is speculated that in reality the image we all have of these rodents plunging over a precipice was a montage, its reliability is unclear.

    Finally, the death of whales stranded on the beach is also considered by many to be suicide, although it may be due to illness.

    self-generated deaths

    Regardless of what we think of as suicide or what values ​​animals may or may not practice, the truth is that there is evidence that several living things performed different actions that led to their own deaths.

    The clearest and best known example is the case of many pets who, after the death of their owner, they stop eating until they are starving. This type of behavior has been observed since ancient times, with reports of this reaction in animals.

    The same sometimes happens with some animals in the wild, which act this way due to the death of their partner. Punishment for the death of a loved one can also cause serious psychological damage to animals, with the presence of anxiety and depressive symptoms in different species being documented. As a result, they lose their appetite. In the case of pets closely related to their ownerThere have been reports of them being next to his grave until his own death.

    Another such behavior is found in animals in captivity and / or under high stress. Specifically, many animals commit various acts of self-harm that can end up causing serious harm or even death. An example is found in the blows that various cetaceans give against the margins of their enclosure.

    Another type of self-generated death in animals is that used to protect another being, usually the creature’s offspring. For example, the parent may serve as a distraction for their offspring to flee or attack the abuser to defend them even though it may cause their death. However, in this case, it is not a suicide in the strict sense because the goal is not to die, but to protect the other and all at the expense of his own life.

    Animals can also be found which generate their own deaths. by biological defense mechanisms. For example, there are certain types of ants that, in the presence of enemies, get tired and cause certain glands to rupture, which eventually cause their bodies to explode. This type of suicide ends with the death of the enemy or predator, but also of the subject himself.

    Finally, some parasites and fungi are known to generate suicidal behavior in different animals. This is what happens to ants in front of different fungi of the genus Cordyceps, which end up looking for the stem of a leaf to bite and wait for death while the fungus grows. In this case, we would be talking about an induced suicide, in which the animal really has no plans or desire to die. Other bacteria generate behaviors that can lead to suicidal behavior such as approaching or losing fear of predators.

      Arguments of those who defend its existence

      Almost until a few centuries ago, much of the population considered that only human beings were self-aware, capable of abstract thinking and thinking. Therefore, in this kind of thinking, we would be faced with the only animal species capable of causing voluntary and conscious death.

      However, research has shown that this is not the case. Different experiments have shown that monkeys, dolphins, crows, parrots, rats and other species have abilities that go beyond mere instinct.

      There are several species that have demonstrated the ability to identify, As with primates and dolphins, and which manifest the ability to become depressed and anxious (something noticeable in pets and animals in captivity, but also in animals in the wild). They also demonstrated intelligence and the ability to sequence actions, as well as communicate (there are even cases of animals learning sign language) and making plans.

      We have also seen that many animals can come to understand that their actions may or may not have an effect on the situations in which they live. A widely known example was given in the experiments which gave rise to the theory of learned helplessness, carried out with dogs who, in the presence of electric shocks from which they could not originally escape, stopped trying to avoid them even in another situation. for move to another side of the cage.

      However, it is not known whether they have the same capacities for imagination, future projection and level of abstraction as human beings, or a level sufficient to enable them to become capable of procuring their own death.

        Arguments of those who deny its existence

        Those who regard animals as lacking the capacity to commit suicide consider that the behaviors associated with autolysis are in fact involuntary, with no intention to commit suicide as a.

        The self-inflicted injuries mentioned above, for example, could be explained as self-inflicted injuries aimed at modifying states of anxiety or stress, or seeking liberation from some kind of suffering (which, on the other hand, is , looks like the main reasons that lead to suicide). Death from hunger can be caused by grief, but that does not imply that there is a will to die. In this case, it is proposed that the suffering and grief experienced occupy the mind of the animal, Making you forget to eat. Suicide as a defense mechanism would be an instinctive and emotional reaction that does not really seek death but the defense of the colony or the offspring.

        Finally, the case of infestations by parasites or fungi is not linked to a desire for death but to a death caused by external factors, so it would not be considered a suicide.

        A realistic conclusion

        Many of the documented cases of animals which have caused their own deaths exhibit a number of characteristics which may cast doubt on the validity of considering this action as suicide or not.

        It is undeniable that some animals actively cause their own death, but it is much more difficult to determine if their actions are truly motivated by the desire to die. In this sense, science has not yet been able to reliably determine this fact, as there is not yet enough data to either assert or deny that animals have the capacity to mindfully commit suicide. ‘they’re doing it.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Preti, A. (2007). Animal suicide: reviewing the evidence. Psychological Reports, 101 (3): 831-848.

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