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Friday, October 14, 2011

Predators Aren’t the Top of the Food Chain, Their Parasites Are!



Lots of people tell me that human beings are supposed to be predators and carnivores—that we’re supposed to be the top of the food chain! This makes human beings sound really important and special, doesn’t it? There’s only one small problem with this idea. The apex predator of an ecosystem (i.e., a predator that has no predators of its own) is not really at the top of its food chain. The creatures at the very tippy top of the food chain are the parasites that feed on the apex predator. Here’s a link to an article that describes the protozoa, worms, and mites that were found in the droppings of wild lions in Tanzania. These parasites are the sort of creatures I think of when someone mentions the top of the food chain! Not so glamorous, is it?

The idea that human beings should be at the top of the food chain and therefore should or must kill and eat other animals to maintain some sort of special status sounds to me like a weird and dangerous form of narcissism. It asserts that we are special and entitled to special privileges, but it bases that exalted status on primitive animalistic behaviors, not on the abilities and accomplishments that are unique to our species. We’re the only known species in the universe with whom it is even theoretically possible to hold an intelligent conversation. We’re the only ones who can contemplate and deliberately shape our own destiny. Those uniquely human gifts make us special, even if we eat the low-fat plant-based foods that are good for our health instead of the fatty, meaty foods that are the major cause of death and disability in the United States.