Which Animal Murders the Most?


Murders are in the news so frequently that you may quietly wonder: are people just naturally violent? We can answer that question by looking at the rest of the animal kingdom. Are we Homo sapiens any more murderous than, say, monkeys, mice, or meerkats? [Music] A team of researchers in Spain found out by gathering data for more than one thousand mammal species, and they found that killing is actually pretty rare. Okay sure, predators will eat prey, but less than half of the studied species kill members of their own kind. And we humans are nowhere near the top of the chart of the most murderous mammals. We’re not even in the top 30. Some of those top species include obvious ones: predators like lions, bears, and wolves. But the list has surprises too. Cute things like ground squirrels, wild horses, deer. The adorable long-tailed chinchilla is sitting at number 14. And at the number 1 most murderous mammal? The meerkat. They might seem lovable, but around 20 percent of meerkats lose their lives to other meerkats. Primates, the group we belong to, turn out to be an unusually violent bunch. They are 8 times more likely to kill each other than other mammals are. This makes sense: Primates are both territorial and social, two factors that provide the motive and opportunity for murder. So we descend from a group of unusually murderous mammals. But what’s happened since then? To find out, the Spanish team combed through archeological data and historical records. They found that in paleolithic times, lethal violence caused 3.5% of all human deaths, making our ancestors only slightly more violent than the average primate. But as our societies got bigger, our rates of lethal violence increased, rising to around 12% during the Medieval period. But, once we formed large states and became more organized, institutions and the rule of law reduced rates of murder, which are now much lower than in our prehistoric past. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have approved. In the 17th century, he argued that modern society protects us from our brutish nature. Not so, said Jean-Jacques Rousseau, another philosopher who believed that humans are naturally good, and civilization is what corrupts us. So did Hobbes win this age old debate? Well maybe, but there’s a catch. Some researchers argue that how a mammal species kills its own kind matters more than the rate at which it does the killing. And for primates, the most common MO is infanticide. They kill their babies. But what makes humans so different is that we kill each other as adults at an exceptionally high rate. It is adult homicide that makes us part of a very small club of violent mammals that includes the like of wolves, lions, and spotted hyenas. Human violence may be rooted in our evolutionary past, and we may tamed our lethal proclivities, but like it or not, when it comes to violence, humans are still exceptional. This is You Are Here, a new series from the Atlantic about the science behind everyday life. Let us know what topics you want us to explore in the comments. I’m Ed Yong, thanks for watching.

48 thoughts on “Which Animal Murders the Most?

  1. There is a difference between killing and murdering, murder a uniquely human concept, other animals (other to humans, that is) kill for reasons other than for fun, which is what murder is but they kill for survival, either to eat or to protect their own life, in a fight, say. Kill or be killed, that is not the case with human murderers.

  2. It would be interesting if this segment looked into animal memory. Do elephants really have extraordinary memory? Do gold fish remember things for 5 seconds? Are there diseases similar to dimentia in elderly wild animals?

  3. Humans are far and away the most murderous species in the known universe…Animals kill over territory, hierarchy, and food…Humans kill because they enjoy it…Humans kill everything they come into contact with…

  4. Primates' "most common M.O. is infanticide. They kill their babies." Now it makes more sense why abortion is still so widely accepted…

  5. Yeah like… we kill more than 50 Billion animals every year and that's just in the land. We kill trillions of animal sea life each year and this is all destroying our planet. But no! Humans are a very kind to nature…

  6. A related but more telling question I'd like answered is: What animal kills the most throughout the animal kingdom? This would provide greater insight to the nature of killing as a whole, not only within one's own species. Thank you.

  7. this is not an accurate description of humans in a violent context. It's interesting that Pinker and the rest never discuss percent of violence across human society. the majority of humans just want to raise their families in peace and tend to their daily chores. the percentage of humans that have killed another human is tiny.

  8. Wait a minute. Something on youTube that uses logic and reason. Say it ain’t so. Got so use to liberal lies, humans are evil and other bullshit, this is weird.

  9. @ED_YONG
    HUMANS are : by definition animals do not murder and you can not murder a animal :
    All jurisdictions require that the victim be a "natural person"; that is, a "human being" who was still alive before being murdered.
    In other words, under the law one cannot murder a corpse, a corporation, a" non-human animal", or any other "non-human organism "such as a plant or bacterium

    3:14:
    According to WHO, there are an estimated 40-50 million abortions.yearly… yet only about ~ 437,000 people murdered yearly ***(2012)

  10. the more advanced a species is, the more it sees of unnatural ways of benefiting from violence, AND more ways of benefiting from social empathy. An elephant simply does not have the chance to even think of murduring his wife in order to benefit from an insurance policy. No other species could think of setting up someone to look like they commited murder in order to put them behind bars.

  11. Humans forget they are animals. If you wan't to be less annoyed at people in 2019 and less hard on yourself remeber your an animal. It's never that deep. We make it deep as we have the best cognitive abilities.

  12. I think humans take the cake, humans kill massively, and not only ourselves but other species and the environment, we spread like a virus all over the place destroying what gets in our way.

  13. I can answer your question, Satan & his demons control people to kill & kill them self,…dont worry some day all the killings will end

  14. We may not murder each other as much, but we certainly murder other animals to such an extent that I think human beings should top the list.

  15. When animals kill their Young ones its not for the same reason(s)that a human adult does it but humans always read nature and the animals out from their own psyche and Logic which is wrong. When fex meercats and other animals kill some or all of their young its because they SENSE and UNDERSTAND IN THEIR OWN WAY that the conditions and balance in their natural environments for bringing their young are at present NOT MET, too little Food to og around due to maybe drought or other imbalances imposed on them from without(including us) so killing their young is actually an act of COMPASSION and bring about a quick relatively painless Death instead of a longer painful Death. We get so many Things wrong in Our perceptions of animals.

  16. Interesting but you failed to give us rates on the other species that might be a little bit important, that would be relevant information

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