Ben Van Allen liked to collect caterpillars(毛毛虫) when he was young. While doing postdoctoral research at Louisiana State University, Van Allen saw that some of the caterpillars were having others for lunch. Rather than cry over his losses, Van Allen took advantage of the cannibalism for his research.
"Generally speaking, it's nutritious to eat the same species, because they have all the nutrients that are already inside you, so it's an easy-to-process meal. It also reduces the amount of competition you are going to experience. It's just one fewer individual trying to eat the same food you are, in the same area. And it's usually easy to find members of the same species too, since they live in the same place you do." Van Allen and his colleagues collected the caterpillars to study disease transmission(传播) in lepidoptera(鳞翅类物种)—moths and butterflies.
After observing the cannibalism, they wondered if their subjects' appetite for each other might be dangerous for the individual. if it eats an infected cousin which benefits the group, it removes the infected individual from the group. "Our main point is that it is an individually risky thing for a caterpillar; however, for groups, the cannibalism actually prevent diseases from getting into the group in the first place." Van Allen's study is in the journal American Naturalist.