Besides fruits and milk, what other things in nature are “intended” to be eaten?

Besides fruits and milk, what other things in nature are “intended” to be eaten?

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Besides fruits and milk, what other examples are there in nature where it is beneficial for a species to have some part of its biomass eaten by others so that it evolved to produce nutritious parts to be eaten by other organisms? For example, plants having animals eat their fruits as a means of transporting their seeds.


I think there are at least two philosophically different scenarios that interest me.

One is when the substance is intended to be eaten by the same species (example: milk).

The other is when it is intended to be eaten by another species (example: fruits).

There are plenty of examples! Here is a short list

  • Defence ("Eat that so that you don't eat this")
    • Evisceration. It is the ejection of internal organs so that predator eat them but not the prey entirely. (sea cucumber does evisceration)
    • Lizard's tail being fragile on purpose
  • Parental care
    • Milk
    • Regurgitation
    • Sexual Cannibalism (as it is often hypothesized as benefiting the male also as he indirectly nourish his offspring)
    • In haplo-diplontic species, one of the two generation can be much bigger and can transfer its nutrient to the other generation (offspring), such as in moss for example.
  • Mutualism
    • Nectar
    • Fruits
    • Honeydew produced by aphids to attract ants which protect them from predators
    • Ant breeding fungi
  • Symbiosis
    • Lichen
    • Root nodule
  • Social behaviour
    • Honeypot ant (if we are happy to consider the honey stored in the ant for a long being part of the ant biomass).
  • Human related
    • The researcher in parasitology that feed his mosquitoes with his own blood!
    • Crops (and other things) under artificial selection. It is here just cases of mutualism where humans is involved.

I found this question very interesting. Let me explain. In the course of evolution, all organism developed properties (may be structural, functional or other) to protect themselves from predators. It may be by mimicry or development of some defensive or offensive methods. There are only a few exceptions to that - where the organism allows other organisms to eat its body parts. In the question the "intended to be eaten" indicates this. With this sacrifice surely the organism gets some survival advantages of itself or its children. Fruit and milk are among these rare examples.

Another example should be nectar of flowers. Plants make nectar so that bees visit flowers to drink it and unknowingly spread the pollen.

There should be other examples also.

Please note the tag "evolution".

In many species (crickets, salamanders, newts, arachnids, moths) males provide a nuptial gift in the form of a spermatophore which aids the female if consumed (normally via additional nutrition, but in some species the package may contain toxins that make the female less susceptible to predation).

Also, @Arnd mentions nectar in the context of encouraging fertilisation but extrafloral nectaries are believed to have evolved specifically to produce nectar for consumption, in this case by insects that will attack herbivores and thereby indirectly protect the plant.

You could make a case that bitter or toxic secretions that are intended to discourage predation have evolved specifically to be consumed, but I suspect that's not really the way this question was intended.

I think cannibalism in caterpillars is an example. Especially the larvae of the Lyceanidae, but also anthocharis cardamines are canniballistic. The caterpillars often find themselves on a plant that is too small to sustain more than one of them. Cannibalism is then beneficial to the species, because one butterfly is better then ten starved larvae. As cannibalism also makes the caterpillars grow faster, it could (hypothesis, not proven afaik) be a survival strategy (or semantically more correct: trait).

Watch the video: TheyThem Film and Panel. One Climbers Story (August 2022).