Vice Week continues with The Seven Deadly Sins. The next seven posts will describe an animal or animals that exemplify Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Envy, Wrath, Pride, and Lust. And no, “Sloth” will not be a Sloth, because I have already done the Sloth, because I cannot plan ahead.

When I think of animal gluttons, the first thing to come to mind is the Wolverine, whose other name is “the Glutton.” In fact, his scientific name, Gulo gulo, is Latin for “Glutton glutton.” The largest of the weasels, wolverines make up for in ferocity what they lack in stature. The adamantium skeleton doesn’t hurt, either.

You wanna dance, bub?

A wolverine can bring down a moose. They’re not particularly fast, but because of their broad feet they can outrun almost anything in deep snow. They’ve been known to challenge grizzly bears for a meal. And while they can eat a lot in one sitting, because they don’t eat often in those Arctic winters, they’re not the most gluttonous animal I can think of.

Then there’s the Wolverine of Australia, the Tasmanian Devil.

Deez nuts!

The largest surviving marsupial carnivore, and possessor of the strongest bite force per-pound in the animal kingdom, the Tasmanian Devil eats, on average, 15% of its body weight every day. If the opportunity arises, the Devil will consume 40% of its body weight in 30 minutes. And when it eats an animal, it eats the entire animal, bones and horns and all. Tasmanian Devils share kills (though there’s a lot of biting and yowling at each other involved), and if you leave a slaughtered cow in front of a family of Devils and come back half an hour later, only a bloody stain will prove that the cow ever existed.

But it’s still not the most gluttonous animal I can think of. To know true hunger, you have to venture into the wide, empty deserts of the ocean.

And finally, monsieur, a wafer-thin mint. It is only wafer-thin.

Tiger sharks have specialized teeth shaped like can openers designed specifically to bite through sea turtle shells. But tiger sharks are by no means specialists. In addition to sea turtles, they will eat seals, dolphins, fish, seabirds, humans, and other sharks, all of which they will swallow whole. But hey, they’re not picky. They’ll eat anything, whether it resembles food or not. An incomplete list of things found in tiger shark stomachs includes license plates, baseballs, car tires, shopping carts, and once, a complete 16th century Spanish suit of armor, probably found in a shipwreck. Not exactly discerning gourmands.

But gluttony is borne out of a fear of famine, and there is no place on Earth with less available food than the ocean’s abyssal plains. Which is why my pick for the official Glutton of the Animal Kingdom goes to the Umbrella-Mouthed Gulper:

Get in my belly.

That’s its mouth, on the right side of the picture. Yes, it takes up half its body. Also known as the Pelican Eel, this deep-sea fish has adapted to the ever-present spectre of starvation in the ocean’s depths by acquiring the ability to swallow animals larger than itself. That’s right: it can consume 110% of its body mass in under a second. Prey being so scarce so far from the sun, many abyssal animals, such as the Gulper’s cousin the Black Swallower, have evolved to consume mass quantities in case the opportunity doesn’t present itself again for a month or two. When you don’t know when your next meal is, it pays to be able to eat your own weight in one sitting.


About quantumbiologist

Christian Drake, AKA The Quantum Biologist, is a naturalist and poet formerly of Albuquerque, NM and currently living deep in the backwoods of the Connecticut Berkshires. He has worked in aquariums and planetariums, national parks and urban forests. When not birding or turning over rocks to find weird bugs, he enjoys rockabilly music, gourmet cooking, playing harmonica and writing dirty haiku. View all posts by quantumbiologist

2 responses to “Gluttony

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