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Tomorrow with Mike Fitz: Death in Nature

Many of explore.org’s most popular cameras show unfiltered views of wildlife. As wild beings, animals often demonstrate resiliency in the face of hardship, but they sometimes encounter challenges they cannot overcome. Some of the most powerful and moving live cam moments are associated with death.

Join me tomorrow, March 20, at 1 p.m. Pacific (4 p.m. Eastern) for a live chat about death in the animal world. Bring your questions or submit them in advance in the comments below. Tune in on our Live Events page.

Watching an animal die can be a powerful experience. Death conjures strong emotions like loss and pain, but it also provides lessons in survival and raises difficult questions about the appropriateness of human intervention.

Keep exploring,

Mike Fitz
Your resident naturalist for explore.org

  • Stacey

    A difficult and sensitive topic for a chat! Please forgive me if my question comes out the wrong way:

    I was very sad when one of Bear 132’s spring cubs was killed by a bear in July 2018. I still feel sad for what happened.

    At the same time, near the end of bear season in the fall, I would always marvel — and be grateful for — how fat and healthy Bear 132’s surviving cub seemed!

    My question: Is there sometimes a silver lining to death? For example, can the death of one sibling provide an opportunity for the sibling that survives?

    Thanks, Mike, for all you do to help us understand the bears!

    • https://fitznaturalist.com Mike Fitz

      Many mammals routinely have more offspring than they can successfully raise. In bears this could be a strategy to buffer against the likely loss of a cub, for example. Given the right set of circumstances and luck, a mother bear could successfully wean two, three, even four cubs, but the chances of that happening are often low. If you are raising three cubs and two die, you still have one more to raise and wean, but if you only have one cub and it dies, then that’s game over until the next litter.

      Additionally, cubs from large litters are often smaller on average than cubs from smaller litters. All those mouths means less food for each cub, which slows their growth rate. There could be a connection between body size and survivorship of bear cubs (certainly if you are larger, then you can carry more fat reserves), but no one has attempted to scientifically study the relationship so we don’t know if it exists.

      • Stacey

        Fascinating!

        Thank you, Mike!

  • http://www.teatrremus.pl/ Kasia

    Wow, Mike, respect and thanks!

  • Malou

    Thank you for offering this Mike.

  • Ginger52 – Iowa

    Sometimes we see a lot of sibling aggression on eagles cams (and in other species as well) which can lead to the death of one of the eaglets. Or, more often, it’s one contributing factor to an eaglet’s death. Thoughts?

    • Stacey

      Thanks for asking this, Ginger!

    • https://fitznaturalist.com Mike Fitz

      Each situation seems to be at least a little unique. Sibling aggression can be influenced by food availability, relative age of siblings compared to each other, and (I suspect) the eaglets disposition among other factors. Disposition would be very difficult to document or test scientifically though. Even though it’s just a hunch I have, we know that animals aren’t mindless, so just like in people I think certain eagles might be predisposed to be aggressive to their siblings while others may not be.

      There are some bird species that practice “obligate siblicide” when a sibling almost always gets killed. Eagles aren’t one of those species, so it would be fascinating to track some of the more obvious variables that could lead to it. You might already be aware of Raptor Resource’s prey log.
      https://www.raptorresource.org/learning-tools/prey-log/ That information correlated with behavioral observations could she considerable light on at least one factor that influences sibling aggression. One hundred years from now, I can foresee biologists and the public reviewing decades of data and knowing a lot more about it because of the records we started to keep.

      • Mary

        Actually, the Black Eagle in Africa has the “obligate siblicide.” There’s a camera overlooking the nest on the cliff. Really beautiful location. I saw the intentional killing of the sibling, pretty rough, don’t think I’ll watch that cam anymore.

        • https://fitznaturalist.com Mike Fitz

          Thanks for the clarification. I should’ve been more clear and said “bald eagles aren’t one of those species” as I didn’t mean to imply all eagle species. There is so much behavioral diversity among animals that its often difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to make generalizations about what animals may or may not do.

          • Mary

            Well said….

  • ss

    its my birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • jk

    I´m turning 50 and I have my own privet zoo!!!!!!!!!!!

  • mike

    happy birthday !!!!!!!!!!!!

  • jeffy

    Peace out !!!!!! boyzzz

  • wanda

    Your my hero Mike Fitz