Anyone who has known an animal has likely seen grief or despondency, or at least what appears to be those kinds of emotions. But do animals actually go so far to commit suicide and purposefully harm themselves? History has given us numerous examples, from beached dolphins and whales to dogs jumping to their watery deaths.
That question isn't new, but over time the way we look at suicide has changed, with some professionals believing that suicide isn't a choice that someone is making to harm themselves. When someone, human or animal, becomes stressed to the point of mental and physical harm, is it even a choice? Or is it a reaction to surrounding conditions, like stress or abuse?
Humans have always had a tendency to project their emotions onto animals, and we have given animals reasons to kill themselves just as humans have had their reasons. What psychologists see today is that suicide is all over the animal world, and instances of animal suicide are often true self-sacrifice, where the animal is destroying itself to save the group as a whole. However, in other instances, where suicide appears to be emotionally driven as opposed to situationally driven, suicide in animals can be the result of biological imbalances and debilitating illness. It presents a fascinating case study that can teach us as much about humans as it can animals.
A bear reportedly killed her son by smothering him and then killed herself at a Chinese farm; the revealing details about this situation make the bear's suicide not surprising at all. The bear and her son were used for their bile, and it's widely believed that the bear killed herself to protect her son and herself from the years of painful bile extraction to come.
Bear bile is often used in traditional Chinese medicine as a cure for liver and gall bladder problems. Before the 1980s, the bile was extracted from a bear that had been hunted and killed. However, in the '80s, bear bile farms started as a way to have a never ending supply of bear bile, because the farmers extracted the bile while the bear was alive.
This is just as bad as it sounds. Some bears "free drip" through permanent holes, others have catheters. They are often kept in cages so tiny that they've grown deformed just to fit. Bear bile farming is still legal in China, though the vast majority of Chinese people do not agree with it. Hopefully, this cruel practice will end someday; it is yet another example of animals resorting to extreme actions due to their circumstances or environment.
When a lady bug approaches a pea aphid, the pea aphid can effectively become a suicide bomber. The aphid explodes itself, forcefully moving its friends and family away from the lady bug and sometimes killing the lady bug in the process. The aphid can also explode after its been eaten by the lady bug.
But this isn't the only way pea aphids can kill themselves. As a parasitic host for wasps, the young wasps will feed on the aphid and then eventually kill it. The aphid is not about that life, so it will hurl itself to the ground to be eaten after eggs have been laid within it and the parasitic cycle is in danger of beginning.
In 2005, one sheep jumped off a cliff - who knows why; perhaps it really was just sick of being a sheep. Regardless, the farmers watched as the rest of the herd followed, and overall 1,500 sheep jumped from the cliff.
Only 450 of them died, however. As more and more sheep jumped, the bodies of the sheep braced the impact of hitting the ground, so the sheep jumping later were saved. However, it was a devastating blow to the village, where each family raised sheep as their livelihood.
There's really no nice way to put this: male honeybees will explode their own genitalia. And yes, it is fatal.
Why? Not because they actually want to die, but rather because they'd really like to pass their genes on to create more honeybees. Considering that male honeybees only have one role on earth, which is to mate with the queen bee, it's not surprising that they're willing to commit suicide in order to create offspring. When the honeybee ejaculates, it's so forceful that his member ruptures and leaves the tip inside the queen, and he dies soon after. Fun, right?