Bill Schutt talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History.
“When people hear that I've written books on vampirism and cannibalism, nobody's really very surprised.” ~Bill Schutt
Bill noted that Cannibalism is a follow-up to his earlier book, Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood Feeding Creatures, and just as with Dark Banquet, Cannibalism seeks to demystify and de-sensationalize a topic that a lot of people find at least questionable, covering the totality of animal cannibalism as well as taking an objective viewpoint of human cannibalism. He was surprised to find that cannibalism was widespread and served functions other than purely survival in the animal world, and that cannibalism in human cultures likewise had reasons other than survival.
Bill wrote the book, Cannibalism to be accessible to the average person, injecting humor and making it as entertaining as possible, as most studies on cannibalism are either academic or sensationalized, and notes that the serious study of cannibalism only began in the 1980s.
In the natural world, cannibalism is found in every major animal group, which was different from the scientific “party line” and is more widespread amongst invertebrates than amongst vertebrates. Bill does admit that cannibalism reduces one’s own gene pool and can result in the spread of pathogens that have adapted to take advantage of cannibalism, but notes that there are some advantages that outweigh these concerns. Codfish, for example, eat their own eggs, as there are millions of these, as nourishment, and some fish eggs will actually never hatch (trophic eggs), as they are intended to become food for the newly-hatched hatchlings in the group they were laid in, which would give them a huge survival advantage. Sand tiger sharks produce one young in each of their ovaries which consume the eggs in that ovary as well as their smaller siblings, so that, when they come out, they are already well-nourished, practiced killers - a huge advantage for a predatory species. The females of some species of amphibians, caecilians, have skin that are consumed by their larvae, which thus gives nourishment to their young so they could have a better chance at survival, and male lions, when they take over a pride, kill and eat the cubs left over from the previous male so they could mate with the females, who will come into heat faster, and thus pass on his own genes.
Bill has also written fiction, having brought out his first novel, Hell’s Gate, in June, 2016, and a second one, The Himalayan Codex, due out in June, 2017, and both feature his love of history and zoology. He notes that people should not just swallow the sensational aspects of cannibalism, noting, as an example, that polar bears have been cannibalizing their own cubs for thousands of years, rather than doing so only because climate change is impacting their species.
Purchase from Amazon: Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt