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.