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Genetics Unzipped: When should you eat your relatives?

Posted by , on 2 June 2022

Saturn Devouring His Son – Goya

Birds do it. Bees do it. We even have evidence that fleas do it, although whether or not those fleas are educated remains to be determined. And by ‘it’, I of course mean cannibalism.

In the latest Genetics Unzipped podcast, Dr Sally Le Page explores the gruesome side of family life in the natural world, getting stuck into a spot of cannibalism and asking: “When exactly should you eat your relatives?”

Sally takes a look at different examples of cannibalism across the animal kingdom, from offspring eating their mothers to males giving up their lives for sex and siblings devouring each other in the womb.

We meet the Taita Hills caecilian, an amphibian species where mothers produce extra thick skin that is eaten by their young, and spiders who digest their own internal organs to feed their spiderlings. We discover how male spiders give up everything, including their lives, for a chance at mating, why barn owls employ a ‘lifeboat’ strategy to eat their siblings, and why you might not want to put your hand inside a sand tiger shark’s uterus…

Genetics Unzipped is the podcast from The Genetics Society. Full transcript, links and references available online at

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