Meerkats – delightful, lovable fluffballs, right? Wrong – they’re actually stone-cold killers, the mammalian world’s most prolific murderers in fact, according to a study that came out in September.
The scientists looked at murder rates in 1,000 mammal species, compared the meerkat (sorry) with the others, and found that one-in-five of these cuddly critters is killed in cold blood by another meerkat.
Overall, around two-fifths of mammal species commit murder, they say, and around one-in-three hundred mammals falls victim, so how do we humans measure up? Well, the good news is we’re relatively un-murderous at the moment. Murder rates in the first humans were probably similar to those seen in great apes today – around one-in-fifty. Killing each other appears to have peaked in popularity during the Medieval period, when they estimate that one-in-eight of us met a grisly end, but we’ve become a lot more civil since.
As well as rating the mammals according to murder, there was a more serious question the researchers were trying to answer – are humans natural born killers or do we learn to murder? Their study suggests murder is an innate human behaviour, but one that can thankfully be overcome by culture and the rule of law.
Science isn’t always serious. The Weird Science series, collated by the Australian Science Media Centre, serves up the most quirky, curious and downright bizarre science stories of 2016.