Animals That Eat Their Young (10 Examples + Pictures)

Photo: Shashidharswamy Hiremath / Shutterstock

Even though it might be a shock to us, there are many animals that eat their young in the wild. It’s important to recognize the difference between killing and eating offspring, and eating deceased offspring.

Take a look at the list of animals that eat their young below:

  • Rabbits
  • Prairie Dogs
  • Chimpanzees
  • Lions
  • Polar Bears
  • Blennies
  • Rats
  • Snakes
  • Lizards
  • Sloth Bears

1. Rabbits

Photo: Kevin Jump / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Scientific name (family): Leporidae

The first of many shocking entries on this list, rabbits pose a lot of questions. First of all, aren’t they herbivores? How can they eat their young if they don’t eat meat?

Secondly, why do they do it? Well, it’s been observed that rabbits will eat their stillborn offspring. They don’t actually kill their own young, they just eat their carcasses.

It’s speculated by animal behaviorists that they do this to prevent any predators from smelling the dead body and being attracted to their hut. As to how can they eat meat if they’re herbivores – they simply force it down.

2. Prairie Dogs

Photo: Marcos del Mazo Valentin / Shutterstock

Scientific name (genus): Cynomys

Even though they live in highly-evolved communities, prairie dogs kill up to a third of their own offspring. This is often done not only by the parents, but by the sibling of the parent – usually an aunt.

They’ll kill their own newborn nieces and nephews so that the group’s resources, including food, can be given to their own children. It’s also known that mothers will sometimes preemptively kill their own young just to avoid their aunt killing them.

Although brutal (and completely dysfunctional from a sociological standpoint), this sort of behavior is normal for prairie dogs.

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3. Chimpanzees

Two young chimpanzees playing
Photo: Tambako the Jaguar / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Scientific name: Pan troglodytes

It’s difficult to believe that an animal so close to ourselves, and an animal so smart, will eat their own young – but this behavior has been observed with chimpanzees many times.

This may sound horrific – but males will sometimes kidnap the newborn chimps, kill them and eat them (even though they’re omnivores, they rarely eat meat, so they have to force this behavior) – all just to create another breeding opportunity.

Chimps are some of the most sympathetic animals, and scientists have recognized that they show obvious signs of mourning when something like this happens. It’s presumed that this is the reason why many chimp mothers go into hiding when they’re supposed to deliver their baby.

4. Lions

Lion laying down
Photo: Pauline Guilmot / Flickr / CC BY NC ND 2.0

Scientific name: Panthera leo

You likely wouldn’t assume that animals that eat their young are at the same time some of the most caring parents in the animal kingdom, but that’s the case with lions.

Lions will kill and eat their young in three instances. Firstly, females will kill their young if only a single infant has survived out of the entire litter – this is done to save energy, as she has to hunt for one kitten as much as she would have to hunt for a small pack.

Then, male lions will kill their own young if they feel threatened – this is done exclusively because of social hierarchy.

Lastly, we have a terrifying example of lions killing their young because they’re starving. This, however, is something that most animals will do if that’s the only solution to their hunger – at least that’s what zoologists believe.

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Fortunately, there aren’t many examples of animals that eat their young, but it’s likely that most animals will do this if they’re driven to it!

5. Polar Bears

Polar bears
Photo: Lucas Kleipödszus / Pexels

Scientific name: Ursus maritimus

Polar bears are arguably the most dangerous living terrestrial predators and they’re the last animal you’d want to come across in the wild as it’s caring for its cub. Unfortunately, they’ve also become dangerous for their own offspring as of lately.

A National Geographic exploration team has made a shocking discovery of a polar bear mother killing and eating her own cub. They were left dumbfounded with this discovery, as this behavior has never been documented with polar bears.

It’s presumed that polar bears have been driven to incredible degrees of hunger by global warming and that this mother had no way of surviving other than eating her own young.

6. Blennies

Photo: Vojce / Shutterstock

Scientific name (order): Blenniiformes

It’s been noted with several species within this order that the father will eat the eggs that he’s supposed to be looking after as young fish are developing. It’s presumed that the fish will do this because it’s annoyed with waiting and it wants to speed the process up.

7. Rats

Photo: Sergey Yeliseev / Flickr / CC0 1.0

Scientific name (order): Rodentia

Rats are completely shameless when it comes to choosing what they eat, and if there’s nothing for them to eat, a mother rat will kill and eat its own young. This behavior, in fact, is documented with many different rodent species (which is why some hamster owners are shocked to find their hamster eating its own babies).

It’s also possible that the mother will kill its own young, usually the weaker individuals, to provide food for the stronger offspring.

8. Sloth Bears

Photo: Shashidharswamy Hiremath / Shutterstock

Scientific name: Melursus ursinus

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This is another animal where there’s only a single documented instance of a mother eating her own cub, and it actually happened in captivity, in the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington D.C.

It’s still unknown to the zookeepers why the mother tried eating the first out of the three cubs. They assumed that the baby was dead and she was just making the best out of a bad situation.

However, after a few weeks of being a calm, nurturing mother – she ate the second out of the three babies. The zookeepers managed to save the third cub from being eaten, still unable to explain what compelled the bear to kill her own young.

9. Snakes

Photo: tabacco / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Scientific name (suborder): Serpentes

It’s widely known that cannibalism is a completely normal practice with many snake species. King cobras, arguably the most well-known snakes in the world, are famous for eating other snakes.

In that, they’re capable and will eat their young, as they’re not immune to their own venom. They do this exclusively for food, but they’re not the only species to do so, as it’s been documented with rattlesnakes too.

10. Lizards

Photo: Jeff Jackowski /   Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Scientific name (suborder): Lacertilia

Even though there’s no official statistic, it’s possible that lizards are the most offspring-eating animals in the world. Offspring cannibalism is very common with lizards and mothers will often eat their own young.

They sometimes do this for food, but also if they assume that the young won’t survive the environmental conditions, so the mother will kill its young out of mercy and then eat their bodies as it doesn’t want to throw away any food.

To End

There are some truly shocking animals that eat their young, and some of them do it for truly shocking reasons – like the polar bear mother eating its own cub as we’ve driven them to the edge of starvation.

Then, there are animals like lizards, snakes and bennies that find this behavior completely normal. Luckily, infanticide isn’t that common in the animal kingdom and it’s likely that these animals will only commit such an act when they absolutely have to in order to survive!

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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