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Researchers studied 1,000 animal species and found the one most likely to murder one of its own

Three baby meerkats
Reuters/ Phil Noble
Not as innocent as they look.
By Olivia Goldhill
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

If you think humans are a violent species, spare a thought for meerkats. A study on violence in more than 1,000 mammals has revealed that pretty much all of them are murderous, but meerkats are the most bloodthirsty of all.

Evolutionary biologists, led by José María Gómez from the University of Granada in Spain, conducted the study in order to understand human violence in an evolutionary context. They found that when Homo sapiens first came into existence, roughly one in 50 of us were killed by members of our own species. This made us typically violent for a primate, though around six times more murderous than an average mammal.

Our murderous tendencies have shifted over time though. Gómez’s research found that we became considerably more violent during the Iron Age and Medieval period of Africa, Europe and Asia, but over the past few centuries, have become significantly less violent than when humans first existed. This suggests that as we formed large, organized states, complicated social structures have kept our violent urges in check.

But where do meerkats fit in? The researchers weren’t focused on these unexpectedly lethal creatures, but Ed Young at The Atlantic organized the research to rank the top 30 most murderous mammals. Meerkats come well ahead of lions, wolves, and leopards. Roughly one in five meerkats die at the hands of their own species.

As for humans, it seems we’re less murderous than meerkats, more so than most mammals, but less violent than the typical primate.

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