Do any animals always fight to the death?

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Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Mossling on June 16th, 2010, 5:36 am 

What are some examples of animals that compete intraspecifically with the aim to only kill or be killed - to permanently defeat their competitor, or die trying.

For example, I have heard that male lions will often kill their adversary when seeking to gain access to females, and yet it seems some males will admit defeat and seek to escape before death (resulting in their mane falling out(?)). So this idea that some people often communicate: "Lions always fight to the death", is not apparently true.

I have looked around for examples, but have only found the following information:

"One common misconception about Siamese fish fighting is that the opponents always fight to the death. Although this is sometimes the case, most people compare the fights to a boxing match, in which there emerges a winner and a loser. Obviously due to the extremely vicious nature of the male Betta, fights occasionally end in the death of one combatant." Gambling Planet

"Pit bulls were genetically selected for their fighting ability. What does this mean? It doesn’t mean that they can’t be around other dogs, that they’re unpredictably aggressive or that they will always fight to the death. These are all common myths about pit bulls. It does mean that they may be easily encouraged to fight with other dogs." ASPCA

"The lion, tiger, bear and other extremely aggressive animals don't always fight to the death either. Therefore the victor gets the meal that day and the loser goes on to catch his own rabbit or whatever." Game-dog.com

"It is not a good idea to house male and female gerbils together and if fighting does occur the offending gerbils need to be separated because gerbils almost always fight to the death." Examiner.com

"Roosters will "RARELY" fight to the death when free to flee. Not even game roosters." Topix.net

So it seems, so far, that there aren't any examples of animals that always fight to the death - apart from Roman Gladiators, but I don't want to include humans in this just yet.
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby DaMadScientist on June 29th, 2010, 7:08 am 

I'm sure there may be a few that fight to the death but i only know of one species. Beta fish or "Chinese fighting fish" will fight to the death if they are put into a small area. Only the males fight to the death and they will do so with or without a female present. It probably takes many many hours for one of them to die. Im not sure if one might give up in there natural habitat and try to leave but if put in a bowl they fight to death. In there natural habitat they wive in ponds and puddles. I think they evolved this behavior because in a puddle there is limited resources and females. I would imagine if there are other animals that do this the situation would probably be the same. The area they are fighting in would have to be closed off so one doesn't escape.
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby kudayta on June 29th, 2010, 7:13 am 

Always fighting to the case? No, of course not. That's a pretty high standard to live up to (pardon the pun). Furthermore, there's some game theory that covers this.
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Mossling on June 30th, 2010, 12:31 am 

DaMadScientist wrote:I'm sure there may be a few that fight to the death but i only know of one species.

So you're not actually "sure"...

DaMadScientist wrote:Beta fish or "Chinese fighting fish" will fight to the death if they are put into a small area.

I think you may be referring to the Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta splendens) that I referenced in my initial post: "One common misconception about Siamese fish fighting is that the opponents always fight to the death."

It interests me a lot why people would argue that some animals always fight to the death, because it seems such ideas are used to support certain notions about human duelling, competition, gladiatorial mentalities, etc. This idea that there is a kind of 'killer instinct' within some animals (and even possibly humans) that once triggered causes an all-out death-fest amongst their own kind seems to appeal to many people.

In fact, the following seems more the case in the animal kingdom: "Conflict amongst equal or near equal predators is not wise as it compromises survival. The cheetah, for example, usually gives up its kill to say hyena because of the possibility of becoming injured even slightly which would severely reduce its capacity to run. And fast running is how the cheetah survives. And the humble domestic cat if he or she is an outdoor cat will try and avoid territorial disputes by marking its range (a from of communication) with scrapes and sprays." Lion vs Tiger

As a kung fu teacher once said; the best technique he can advise to use against someone who pulls a knife, is the 100m sprint in most urban cases. Potentially lethal fights are not apparently worth it unless survival of one's family (or only potential family) is involved.

An old viking story about a challenger to the village leader comes to mind. The challenger was a man much stronger than the leader, and suggested a test to see who had the most courage. The challenger dared the leader to hold his arm in the fire for as long as possible. The leader held his arm in the fire until the hairs all burnt off and his skin began to turn dark. The challenger scoffed and then stuck his arm in the fire until the flesh charred black. The leader then pointed out how the challenger had ruined his sword arm and that he would be useless if their village was attacked. In this way the leader showed his wisdom and held on to his position.
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Paralith on June 30th, 2010, 11:25 am 

It's all about the costs and benefits, Mossling. Taking a certain amount of risk is worth it if that risk has a good probability of benefiting you. Most animals won't fight to the death most of the time because it's almost always better to give up and live, and maybe have a chance of going on to reproduce in the future, rather than just die and throw that chance away. However, in some cases the cost of death may be worth the benefit. Though this isn't exactly fighting to the death, there are several species like salmon who spend every last ounce of their energy on their one reproductive effort, causing them to die once it is complete. However, it's also been show among certain monkey species that older individuals are willing to take more risks than younger ones. Why? They have less reproduction ahead of them anyway. They'll be losing less than a younger individual would if they die fighting to protect their existing offspring or grandoffspring.
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby dragslaye on June 30th, 2010, 2:53 pm 

What about bees, I remember seen a documentary in which a whole colony of bees was exterminated by hornets, also ants and of course humans
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Paralith on July 1st, 2010, 9:49 am 

I don't think "fighting to the death" includes the extermination of other animals at relatively little risk to yourself. There are a species of hornets (or wasps maybe...don't remember exactly) in Japan that will seek out and kill whole colonies of bees. But these hornets/wasps are six to seven times the size of the bees and they attack in numbers. It's not exactly a fight where they face a serious risk of their entire colony being wiped out. That's what the bees have to worry about, and fight they do. For hours, if that's what it takes.

Ants and other colony insects do have members which fight to the death, but they are not reproductive individuals themselves, and and in many cases their death will likely advance their shared reproductive success through their mother the queen much more than would their survival. Humans exhibit extremely high degrees of complex cooperation and the desire to enter into such cooperative states; I don't think it's too far of a stretch to go from there to ideas of fighting to the death for some greater cooperative cause.
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Mossling on July 2nd, 2010, 12:02 am 

Paralith wrote:in Japan that will seek out and kill whole colonies of bees. But these hornets/wasps are six to seven times the size of the bees and they attack in numbers.

Yes, I have seen that happening - very vicious. Interestingly, some bees have developed a cunning reaction to hornets: and the likes "in the case of Apis cerana defense against other insects such as predatory wasps is usually performed by surrounding the intruder with a mass of defending worker bees, who vibrate their muscles so vigorously that it raises the temperature of the intruder to a lethal level" Wiki: Honey Bee - Defence

Paralith wrote:Ants and other colony insects do have members which fight to the death, but they are not reproductive individuals themselves, and and in many cases their death will likely advance their shared reproductive success through their mother the queen much more than would their survival. Humans exhibit extremely high degrees of complex cooperation and the desire to enter into such cooperative states

Really? It seems you are comparing reproductive humans to non-reproductive ants relative to advancing reproductive success by fighting to the death. The factors involved don't appear to reflect one another accurately.

Paralith wrote:I don't think it's too far of a stretch to go from there to ideas of fighting to the death for some greater cooperative cause.

Again; if we are using successful reproduction, which apparently occurs on the individual level for humans, as a drive or main 'purpose' or 'cause' for survival, I can't see how humans individuals dying can support a "greater cause" - what can be greater than successful reproduction in this case?

I am aware that, for example, some Buddhist monks have self-immolated in the past for what they apparently deem a greater cause, and that soldiers have happily marched in to battle to kill or be killed, with some of these people not having reproduced yet, however are you really suggesting; biologically speaking, that humans can bypass their desire to successfully reproduce for a biological greater cause? I would be very intersted to hear what evidence there is for this.
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Paralith on July 2nd, 2010, 7:05 am 

Well Mossling, you are getting into a very active area of research in human behavior and psychology. There appear to many strange consequences of our particular combination of complex intelligence and/or consciousness and/or social/mating system, and even in the past few hundred years we have witnessed profound changes in the ways humans think about and carry out their own reproduction. If my answer seemed overly simplistic it's because it was an extremely abbreviated statement for a broader set of ideas. And you certainly don't have to take my word for it - like I said, it's an active area of research right now.
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Mossling on July 4th, 2010, 3:37 am 

Paralith wrote:I don't think it's too far of a stretch to go from there to ideas of fighting to the death for some greater cooperative cause.

Could you give a possible biologically valid example of humans fighting to the death for a greater cooperative cause?
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Paralith on July 4th, 2010, 10:31 am 

Mossling wrote:
Paralith wrote:I don't think it's too far of a stretch to go from there to ideas of fighting to the death for some greater cooperative cause.

Could you give a possible biologically valid example of humans fighting to the death for a greater cooperative cause?


How's every single war wherein members of the army of a country/polity personally believe that their participation and possible death was important to the safety of their homes and their families? Travelling vast distances with a large group of unrelated people to try and kill and potetially be killed by people you have never seen before in your life is quite a step beyond standing at the door of your home with a gun in your hands and your wife and children hiding behind you. But the root motivation is often the same.
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Mossling on July 5th, 2010, 1:13 am 

Paralith wrote:How's every single war wherein members of the army of a country/polity personally believe that their participation and possible death was important to the safety of their homes and their families?

I considered this myself, but when I began breaking it down, it didn't seem like the factors involved were so explicit:

1. Soldiers defending their country from invasion don't apparently have the intention to 'kill or be killed' - they are on standby if the invaders can't be reasoned with. I don't think the soldiers want the situation to escalate to a lethal stage; they want to remain alive and live in peace at home - prisoners are often preferably taken rather than killed (even to be used as slaves), for example.

2. Soldiers attempting to invade another country are not apparently out to kill someone or be killed, they want to occupy the foreigners' lands in the most efficient way possible, or even take slaves. What is the point in killing someone just for the sake of killing someone? It doesn't seem logical - they risk their own lives, retaliation, and they lose effort, time, resources, etc. in the process.

So, like Siamese Fighting Fish, or Gerbils, humans do often fight to the death, but it doesn't seem that is their basic intention when becoming soldiers and seeking to defend or invade during a War - the same for fighting fish, etc., when confrontations arise.

I am aware that Wars can occur for different other reasons, but this is the apparently most common reason throughout human history. Is there a case of war where humans have the explicit intention to kill or be killed out of their own choice?

Also, it does seem that the 'greater cause' you mention is " the safety of their homes and their families" - which could be said to be successful reproduction, or the potential for that. Didn't you say before that there are other 'greater causes' that humans can fight to the death for?
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Paralith on July 5th, 2010, 11:39 am 

I never said any soldiers are seeking to enter a fight to the death scenario just for the sake of being in such a scenario. And if that's what you meant when you were asking for animals that fight to the death, then I find that to be a rather ridiculous question. But soliders (these days, non-commisioned aka non-drafted soliders) are willingingly entering a situation where that scenario is very likely to happen. I have no doubt that they would prefer to find a solution where entering a fight-to-the-death scenario is not necessary, but if they feel it is necessary, they will enter into it. Again, if your original question was about animals entering into fight-to-the-death scenarios for no particularly good reason, then I certainly could not conceive of any animal that would fit the bill.

As to greater causes, I had hoped you would draw the connection when I talked about the difference between travelling far away with a group of strangers versus standing in front of your wife and children with a gun. Modern warfare, at the least, is quite detached from any immediate, physical harm to your genetic relatives. It takes animals of our intelligence and complexity to take that kind of motivation and use it to justify a behavior like joining a cooperative army full of non-genetic relatives and travelling far from home to kill or oppress people a great many miles from where your family lives. In effect you're risking yourself to save families you've never met before in addition to risking yourself to save your own family. But inside our complex intelligence we've worked out (or at least think we've worked out) that this cooperative option is in fact that best one even for accomplishing our own ultimately selfish goals. I apologize if you think I was ever talking about something much "greater" than that.
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby dragslaye on July 6th, 2010, 11:37 am 

Mossling I would like to tell the same thing to the Jews who survive the holocaust, or the thousands who were massacred in Rwandan.

I think you are confusing policemen whose job is to serve and protect with soldiers who are train for seeking and destroying

We humans trend to be very illogical, in times we seek to kill each other just out of joy, as instead in the wild world animals kill each other out of necessity
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Mossling on July 10th, 2010, 6:02 am 

Indeed, dragslaye - Jews and Rwandan's were massacred, just like fleeing soldiers in Tibet, circa 1900, when the British mowed them down with a new kind of machine gun.

The important factor with regards to the Jews and victimized Rwandans who you seem to allege were 'fighting' at the time of their death, was that the people who killed them knew they had the upper hand when they decided to act: "The [Rwandan Genocide] killing was well organized and by the time it had started, the Rwandan militia numbered around 30,000 — one militia member for every ten families — and was organized nationwide with representatives in every neighborhood. Some militia members were able to acquire AK-47 assault rifles by completing requisition forms." Wiki. These examples are not 'wars' or 'fights' in the sense that two foes readied themselves for relatively predictable attacks. They were apparently covert terrorism/government plots 'sprung' on the unwitting residents who had mostly not been trained like soldiers or fighters. It seemed more akin to the genocide victims haplessly walking in to a gas chamber or bullet, rather than getting a chance to 'fight to the death'. Indeed, this was the case for many Jews in the gas chambers, was it not? They didn't know what would happen to them.

dragslaye wrote:in times we seek to kill each other just out of joy, as instead in the wild world animals kill each other out of necessity

Really? Maybe you could provide examples?
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby toppyblue on February 9th, 2014, 12:48 pm 

Roosters will normally fight for dominance and the stronger and "gamer" bird usually wins and the loser subbmits...However with game cocks,the quit does not exist in their genetics as stated above.I have raised game roosters(*gamecocks) for over 50 years.....Mature(8-12 month old) gamecocks do not quit and in fact fight to the death because their fight syndrome overpowers the flight . The desire to eliminate his opponent has absolutely nothing to do with any amount of space they may have. Running loose together , a dominant cock is often killed by his own offspring...The strongest and gamest survive to create stronger and gamer offspring.
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby SciameriKen on February 9th, 2014, 4:13 pm 

Mossling wrote:Indeed, dragslaye - Jews and Rwandan's were massacred, just like fleeing soldiers in Tibet, circa 1900, when the British mowed them down with a new kind of machine gun.

The important factor with regards to the Jews and victimized Rwandans who you seem to allege were 'fighting' at the time of their death, was that the people who killed them knew they had the upper hand when they decided to act: "The [Rwandan Genocide] killing was well organized and by the time it had started, the Rwandan militia numbered around 30,000 — one militia member for every ten families — and was organized nationwide with representatives in every neighborhood. Some militia members were able to acquire AK-47 assault rifles by completing requisition forms." Wiki. These examples are not 'wars' or 'fights' in the sense that two foes readied themselves for relatively predictable attacks. They were apparently covert terrorism/government plots 'sprung' on the unwitting residents who had mostly not been trained like soldiers or fighters. It seemed more akin to the genocide victims haplessly walking in to a gas chamber or bullet, rather than getting a chance to 'fight to the death'. Indeed, this was the case for many Jews in the gas chambers, was it not? They didn't know what would happen to them.

dragslaye wrote:in times we seek to kill each other just out of joy, as instead in the wild world animals kill each other out of necessity

Really? Maybe you could provide examples?




I can buy the point that most likely your average soldier does not really feel their life is in danger when they enter these situations. Still there are times when they have to accept the fact they will more than likely die - as in the soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy or the kamakazi pilots among many many examples...
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Re: Do any animals always fight to the death?

Postby Obvious Leo on February 9th, 2014, 4:39 pm 

The Western Front in WWI is a classic example, where entire companies were wiped out inside a minute when they were ordered "over the top" out of their trenches armed with bolt action rifles to face emplaced machine gun fire. They would have known perfectly well that they were doomed because this was happening every day.

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