Sometimes sex just isn’t worth your life.
For male black widow spiders, standing at just a quarter of the size of their mates, sex involves a very real danger: females of the species have no qualms about turning cannibalistic if they’re hungry after getting down and dirty. But it seems that it’s more than just a game of chance for horny male spiders. Researchers at Arizona State University have now learned that simply walking on the webs of female spiders can provide males with chemical cues telling them if their potential mates are ravenous enough to eat them.
No dessert, caveman child, until you finish eating your human. Digging around in a Spanish cave called Gran Dolina, archaeologists have found butchered humans’ fossilized bones. Researchers say the bones show that cave dwellers skinned, decapitated, and enjoyed other early humans, before throwing their remains into a heap with animals bones from other meals.
The study, which appeared this month in Current Anthropology, says the 800,000-year-old Homo antecessor bones could indicate the most “ancient cultural cannibalism … known until now.” Adding to the nightmare: National Geographic reports that the hungry cavemen had a penchant for kids, since the 11 cannibalized humans uncovered were all youngsters. They speculate that the kiddos were easier to catch, and eating them was a good way to stop competitors from building their families.
Study coauthor José María Bermúdez de Castro, of the National Research Center on Human Evolution, told National Geographic that marks near the base of some skulls hint that the diners decapitated humans to get the brain goodness inside.
“Probably then they cut the skull for extracting the brain…. The brain is good for food.”
The researchers believe that eating other humans wasn’t a big deal back then, and probably wasn’t linked to religious rituals or marked by elaborate ceremonies. They draw that conclusion from the fact that butchered human bones were tossed in the scrap heap along with animal remains.
There is some debate as to how frequently human was on the menu, but these researchers note that the Sierra de Atapuerca region had a great climate and that cannibalism didn’t likely result from a lack of alternatives. I guess our ancestors were just that tasty.
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Image: flickr / joanna8555
What was eating the earliest Europeans? Their rivals, apparently. Human remains up to 800,000 years old have been found in an archaeological cave site in northern Spain. They reveal that early Europeans killed and ate their adversaries, and took a special liking to the flesh of children and adolescents.
The abundant food and water available in the area indicate that the cannibalistic practice was not one of necessity. AFP tells us:
A study of the remains revealed that they turned to cannibalism to feed themselves and not as part of a ritual, that they ate their rivals after killing them, mostly children and adolescents. “It is the first well-documented case of cannibalism in the history of humanity, which does not mean that it is the oldest,” said [project co-director Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro]. The remains discovered in the caves “appeared scattered, broken, fragmented, mixed with other animals such as horses, deer, rhinoceroses, all kinds of animals caught in hunting” and eaten by humans, he said. “This gives us an idea of cannibalism as a type [of] gastronomy, and not as a ritual”….
[Archaeologists] found water and food in abundance, could hunt wild boar, horses, [and] deer, “which means that they did not practice cannibalism through a lack of food. They killed their rivals and used the meat,” he said. “We have also discovered two levels that contain cannibalised remains, which means that it was not a one-off thing, but continued through time,” he said. “Another interesting aspect…is that most of the 11 individuals that we have identified” as victims “were children or adolescents.”
Lends a whole new meaning to “the sweet taste of victory.”
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Image: flickr / stu_spivack
Some cells take the mantra “you are what you eat” quite literally. In a process known as autophagy, cells form internal sacs of digestive enzymes—like extra stomachs—and cannibalize parts of themselves. This usually occurs in times of starvation when a cell needs to recycle bits of itself or get rid of intracellular pathogens. But new research shows that cellular self-cannibalization can also play a role in fighting cancer.
Researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that a protein, PEA-15, affects the rate at which ovarian cancer cells self-cannibalize through autophagy. PEA-15 induces cancer cells to form digestive sacs, known as lysosomes, and eat themselves from the inside. That’s not just Hannibal Lecter cannibalism—it’s like Lecter chewing on his own arm.