General Question

AstroChuck's avatar

Has there ever been a record of animals (other than humans) committing suicide?

Asked by AstroChuck (37461points) August 15th, 2008 from iPhone

Yes, I know that when a cat runs in front of your car you can say it’s suicide. But has an animal willfully tried to end it’s own life? Do you think any other animal understands dying, whether by instinct or intellect?

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47 Answers

sndfreQ's avatar

Masses of beached pilot whales apparently are mass suicide victims.

AstroChuck's avatar

Lemmings don’t really commit suicide. You can thank Walt Disney for that urban legend.

tinyfaery's avatar

Whales and dolphins I believe.

shrubbery's avatar

Can it be classed as ‘committing suicide’ though? I guess it depends if you believe animals are conscious of what they are doing like humans are, if you know what I mean. Humans make a conscious decision to end their life, do animals have the ability to do this or is there another reason for what would seem to be suicide for us but is perhaps a quality that helps better the species or something?

gailcalled's avatar

Would the example of salmon swimming upstream to spawn and then die be considered suicide or a natural imperative.

And mother mammals who protect their young risk death. Would that count?

Seesul's avatar

Possums do here, Chuckie. Either that or they’re really dumb.

marinelife's avatar

No. The whales and dolphins that beach are ill and dying.

tinyfaery's avatar

Not always.

Randy's avatar

I actually almost asked a similar question yesterday! I’m so darn curripus to know the real truth to this answer.

sndfreQ's avatar

I may need to modify my statement from above; in doing a bit of follow-up, the concensus is that in most cases, groups can be led by the alpha male to become beached, yet the cause is not always known to be suicide per se. In some cases, the head of a herd may be sick/diseased, and may lead the rest of the “trusting” pack to the shore; in other cases, animals will “off” themselves when suffering from disease so as to lessen the duration of their pain. Whether or not that constitutes suicide as we categorize it in humans (mental illness, for instance) is debateable.

aidje's avatar

It’s not all from Disney, and the myth does have a basis in fact.

SuperMouse's avatar

People of the Forest chronicles some of Jane Goodall’s experiences with the chimps of Gombe. There is one little guy named Flint who, after his mother dies, climbs into a tree, stops eating and drinking, and dies himself.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

How about the certain insects that get eaten after they mate? Is that suicide or the power of vagina??

sounds like a cult

gailcalled's avatar

Chris: It is hard to imagine a vagina on a Preying Mantis. I would call the mating behavior of species that kill their male partners a biological imperative. I bet that there is a program on Nova or Nature (PBS) about this and many articles on Google.

wildflower's avatar

A few days ago, one of the Faroese newspapers reported this cow-llective suicide – 3 cows in all, which isn’t much, but it certainly disrupted traffic….

AstroChuck's avatar

But I can’t read Faroese.

wildflower's avatar

You can watch pictures, no? Basically 3 cows got out of their enclosure, probably got lost in the fog and wandered way off from where they should be…...then one tumbled down the hill, hit the road and died. The other 2 followed shortly after.
...I never did think cows were particularly clever!

Seesul's avatar

The cows must be taking notes from the possums outside my house.

AC is so literate that picture books throw him a curve.

Knotmyday's avatar

Camponotus Saundersi, a Malaysian ant species related to the loveable Carpenter ant, willingly ruptures its oversized mandibular glands in order to spray poison and “attack” kairomones over creatures it perceives to be a threat to the colony. In other words, it blows itself up, becoming the animal kingdom’s version of a suicide bomber.

Knotmyday's avatar

Exploding Ants: Amazing Facts About How Animals Adapt by Dr. Joanne Settel will make the kids (and you) very, very happy. Read!

arnbev959's avatar

Honey bees too then. They die a few hours after using their stingers.

AstroChuck's avatar

No. When I went to the link all I saw was text. Maybe my iPhone is just too damn slow.
@Seesul- Since you live in the northern hemishpere I doubt if you have possums living anywhere near your home.
Think I’m too literal?

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I don’t know if there are actually any cases of animal suicide, but I’m fairly positive that elephants fully comprehend death, on an emotional level. We’re basically just now learning how smart they are and people have witnessed them mourning. They pick up bones of a loved one, caress them, and actually do what sounds like crying. Sometimes one of the elephants won’t leave the bones for days, even if it means not eating or drinking.

On an unrelated note, but still an interesting fact: Elephants are also known to get drunk for fun. As are a few other animals. It’s a little more in-depth with elephants, though. The adults will not let the youngsters anywhere near the fruit that intoxicates them and they actually squeeze themselves into caves when the time of year is right. And elephants do not like being confined to small places, but are willing to put themselves in the position, just so they can get drunk for a night.

wildflower's avatar

Pilot whales have been known to commit suicide too. When they’re over populated or short on food, they deliberately swim up on land.
Back home we preempt this by hunting flocks we spot near land…..and eat well for some time :)

gailcalled's avatar

Cedar waxwings will wait until the fruit left on trees (crabapples, for example) has started to ferment. Then they stuff themselves until balance gets so bad, they fall of.

@AC: We have what we call possums here in the NE, unless we are calling woodchucks by the wrong name. Slow, not very alert, and extremely prone to becoming road-kill.

AstroChuck's avatar

You have opossums. Possums aren’t native to the northern hemishere.
I know. I tend to nit-pick. But so do you, Gail.

gailcalled's avatar

What is the difference, AC? I know I could Google but am too busy.And it is not nit-picking if you are talking about two different animals. Note that I used a qualifier in my first sentence, since I was not sure.

SeekerSeekiing's avatar

I concur with DrasticDreamer regarding elephants…one of my favorite animals.

I think without us knowing animal thoughts, it’s going to be hard to know for certain if they commit suicide. From the outside there are certainly times it looks that way….

I remember reading about a pair of lions in Africa who were thrown out of their pride. They became very very hungry and tried to kill a smaller animal who escaped down a hole in the ground. One lion tried to get in the hole, got stuck. The other lion tried to get it out and couldn’t. The first lion asphyxiated and died. The 2nd lion was found dead 2 days later. He/she refused to hunt and died beside its mate. Grief? Seems so…suicide…don’t know…

Monkey mates will also quit eating and die after a mate dies.

There was also a story about a pair of dolphins had been living for years in the Gulf. And one day the fishermen noticed that the male could not swim properly, and dept floating belly up. The male finally died. The female then continued to push the corpse, trying to get it to the surface to “breathe”. Then a storm came and the body was was smashed into shore rocks. Soon afterward, the female threw herself to the rocks, dying as her partner.

Do they commit suicide? I don’t know, but I think we as humans, always arrogantly underestimate the capacity to love in any other species, but ourselves.

manuel_alarcon's avatar

A picture comes to mind,.. u2 used it for their “One” single, a bunch of buffalloes running to death falling out of a cliff.

SeventhSense's avatar

Possums aren’t native to the Northern Hemisphere. They are found in Australia
But opossums are native to the U.S.A. We usually pronounce both as possum. I see them all the time here on Long Island. They are big fuckers with lots of teeth.

jamielynn2328's avatar

I guess we’ll never really know, but I think they do. I used to have a canary that my mother bought for me, and it drowned itself in it’s own water bowl. I was really young and didn’t really like the canary and would yell at it for singing. I think I drove it to suicide. One of my not so proud moments.

manuel_alarcon's avatar

@jamielynn dude, the canary is a very delicate bird. i’ve known cases where the tweety bird drops dead when your mother vacuums the room; even if you fighten it, the chances are the poor fella falls dead right there. My dad used to have them when i was little. Oh, ant they are pretty moody, too; even when you cant tell by looking at them. No, they wont growl at you… but when a canary is mad, he will open his mouth a little. just a little. Right there is when you must RUN!! XD

wildpotato's avatar

“We don’t make that kind of cat anymore.”—Philip K. Dick, VALIS.

Nullo's avatar

I once heard about some 26 cows in Scotland that, completely of their own accord, wandered off of cliffs over the course of two or three days. Crazy stuff.

Coloma's avatar

@ Maybe some of these cows have been eating mushrooms. lolol

I do know that animals experience all the same emotions as humans. Fear, excitement, happiness, playfulness, anger, love, affection, grief.

I do not believe their thought processes are akin to ours, they don’t plan, ruminate about past or future, hold grudges, make up stories…lol, BUT…they certainly could act on say, grief in the moment as in the case of the Dolphin.

I know that while I was out of the country last month my animals were experiencing separation anxiety and grief. Not eating much, roaming around looking forlorn and calling out. Poor confused things!

It was an awesome homecoming! :-)

gailcalled's avatar

@Coloma: You had me with the 26 lb. goose strapped into the passenger seat. Care to elaborate?

Coloma's avatar


My goose? lol

She ( Babby )was my 26 lb. white Embden goose. In her old age her legs were failing due to her heavy weight ( natural ) she developed a twisted toe that fractured and she was on Rimadyl and cortisone treatments. But alas, I had to put her down. I was having to carry her everywhere, to and from her barn, pool, in the sun, back to the shade. She could only stand and stagger a few steps before needing to lie down again. She was a valiant girl. I loved her dearly. She is buried in the woods below my house and her two other pals are still happy and healthy, turning 5 and 12 this year.

Now it it my 2 chinese geese and cat. They were neurotic messes while I was away. Very imprinted on me and creatures of habit…did not like having a goosesitter much. lol

AstroChuck's avatar

@SeventhSense- I really miss The Far Side.

SeventhSense's avatar

Yes Larson was the best
He was so great
All time favorite

Coloma's avatar

I second ( third) that!

Larson was a genius…makes me lol just thinking of him.
Dug out a bunch of old books last year and relived the entire Farside legacy! lololol

gailcalled's avatar

@Coloma: What’s the going rate for a goose sitter? I could use some of the ready.

Coloma's avatar


Haha..well..the ‘goosesitter’ was my 22 yr. old daughter, working off her debt to mama at the rate of $28 per hour. A pretty good arrangement for her! lolol

She knows the animals well and lives nearby so worked out well..other than the fact that my gander ‘Marwyn’ has it in for her boyfriend. hahaha

Nullo's avatar

I heard once of cattle wandering off of a certain cliff in Scotland. 20 or so in all. Were they suicidal? Who can say.

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