Why Don’t Zombies Eat Each Other?

Everyone has their ideas of why zombies do the things they do. Why do zombies eat brains? Why do zombies from forty years ago lurch while today’s undead sprint toward their victims? Do zombies ever have to go to the bathroom?

The human brain.

The human brain.

I’m dedicating today’s Monday Mayhem post to the ultimate question: Why don’t zombies eat each other?

To answer this question I’m going to speculate, hypothesize, and take a few wild guesses. I’m sure everyone has an opinion, but how scientific are unsubstantiated opinions? Does science have an answer? I’m totally going to throw a dart with the hope it sticks and makes sense. Let’s see how far I get.

This is my theory.

Whether folks are talking about zombies bred by a curse, a virus or a freakish experiment gone wrong, the undead know only one thing—to eat. I’ve mentioned this before in the context of sharks. If anything is true about zombies, they are like sharks that smell blood in the waters. They hunt until there’s nothing left of their prey. Similarly, the undead search for the living as a means of nourishment in order to satisfy a craving deep within their bodies. That craving dictates their actions to terrorize humans for their own personal fulfillment. No matter what they do, they can’t feel satiated by their latest conquest and have to kill again in an endless cycle.

Of course, the next question to come from the astute reader is why. Why do zombies search for humans to fill the void in their souls? With all the meat around them—although undead nonetheless—why go for human? Won’t eating their kind stem the hunger burning within their bowels?

Pituitary Gland.

Pituitary Gland.

The answer to that is no. The question references the same question posed throughout the decades: why do zombies eat brains? It’s the same answer as to why don’t zombies eat each other?

John A. Russo’s film The Return of the Living Dead popularized the idea of zombies eating brains. Brains? Yes. Zombies need endorphins to sooth the pain of decomposition. Since their own kind can’t provide the endorphins needed to quell the agony of a slow death, humans will fill that void.

Located at the base of the brain, the pituitary gland produces the endorphins zombies need to relieve the pain of their immanent demise. To get to the gland, the undead would have to capture a human, bash the skull and draw the prize by scoops. Zombies simply can’t fulfill this order from other zombies. For one thing, in death their pituitary glands no longer secrete endogenous morphine (a.k.a. endogenous opioid inhibitory neuropeptides) as the nervous system is dead. No nervous system, no endorphins.

What was that analogy I’d used earlier? Right, sharks smell the blood in the water of their victims. Can it be zombies also smell the endorphins from humans as they go about their daily lives trying to stay alive during a zombie apocalypse?

What do you think?

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Why do you think zombies don’t each other? Is there a better theory?

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24 Comments

  1. Hunh, yeah, that makes sense. Plus, sharks don’t confuse each other for prey. “Sorry about your fin, Joe! I thought it was that surfer’s foot!”

    Reply
  2. Hang on a minute. Sense of smell, bad eyesight. How is that possible if, as Jack points out, the nervous system is dead?

    Maybe it isn’t dead, but ticking over on an extremely weak electromagnetic frequency. This might explain the zombie’s shambolic behaviour.

    Why would a zombie want to devour a live brain then? Maybe it comes from some sort of instinct, hard wired into the brain at death, as if the brain itself is trying to create some bodily function to prevent its own death and ends up in a loop, like bad computer coding, that can never resolve itself. Thus the zombie, trapped between life and death and beholden to the brain’s new ‘self-survival mode,’ is only capable of doing one thing: find the necessary electro-chemicals for the brain’s recovery. It would then be attracted to a strong electrical frequency (a live human) where the necessary electro-chemicals will be found to maintain brain function, but won’t detect the weak frequency of another zombie.

    I could go on. The science of the supernatural is an intriguing pastime, but can result in some crazy pseudo-scientific explanations that would probably have the experts chewing their own fingers off. Vampires? 3d shadows of their four-dimensional existence (hence no reflection because a shadow emits no light of its own. . . !)

    Reply
    • kingsboro2008

       /  December 8, 2014

      The only thoughts I have is the fact that mosquito are alive. Their small mass leaves little room for a full sized brain but they still feed on blood to reproduce. I think an electric impulse would have to be present to be able to move the body so I don’t think the nervous system could be ‘dead’. I think the brain could be dead, maybe 90% dead.. I do think the body could, “in theory” work on electric impulse only alerting the most necessary parts of the body. The desire for living tissue could be the bodies need for certain vitamins or proteins. An example would our addictions to cigarettes and alcohol or even some peoples desire to kill others. The brain is so wonderfully complicated.

      Reply
  3. kingsboro2008

     /  December 8, 2014

    Reblogged this on ..of Monsters and Men.

    Reply
  4. kingsboro2008

     /  December 8, 2014

    I think their sense of smell would be enhanced allowing them to identify the living from the dead. Within my City of Zombies project I theorize that zombies are blind and use their hearing and sense of smell to identify humans

    Reply
  5. Blue290

     /  December 8, 2014

    I think your theory nailed it. Fresh Meat. I don’t even want to think about waste production. Yikes. Rotting on top of “full pants”…. I like the version in World War Z, they are selective to not infect a “Defective Host”….interesting. Reminds me of why Rattlesnakes do not bite Lawyers….”Professional Courtesy”

    Reply
  6. Reblogged this on Insomnia, Nightmares and General Madness and commented:
    Approaching the issue of cannibalism among zombies, there’s some interesting ideas over here. (Along with loads of other amusing tidbits elsewhere on that blog.)

    Reply
  7. tylowery

     /  December 8, 2014

    That’s better than just about every other theory I’ve ever heard. Someone once speculated that they only hunger for fresh meat, but that never answered why they were only interested in humans. Interesting insight. Thanks.

    Reply
    • I wonder what would change in the genre if zombies hungered for all meat, and not just exclusively human flesh…

      Reply
      • tylowery

         /  December 9, 2014

        I guess that’d depend on what else changed. If they still turned things, I would imagine we’d still hunt them. Otherwise, who knows.

  8. I can’t argue with any of this. Thank you for your clear-eyed analysis.

    Reply
  9. I like that theory. Though, I do wonder how a zombie would know not to attack one of its own. Would you say there’s an instinctive avoidance of cannibalism like many other organisms? Kind of like how a wolf pack knows not to eat its own members simply because it’s unnatural.

    Reply
    • If one accepts the theory that they can “smell” the hormones, I’d imagine their hunger instinct would flag fellow undead as “inedible” or “non-nutritious,” since they’re doing it to satisfy that lack in themselves… Other zombies wouldn’t smell like food, since they’re not producing the required chemicals.

      Of course, a really fresh zombie, or one who’s infected but hasn’t “turned” yet might be another story…

      Reply
      • Forgot about the ‘smell’ part, but I’m going to guess that the sense is rather short-ranged. If it wasn’t then they’d be able to find prey a lot easier. Thinking about senses and zombies, they seem to be more about smell and hearing than sight. Maybe they can hear heartbeats that go at a certain rate like what would happen when someone is scared.

      • Sounds feasible to me. I’do imagine that they probably have difficulty with sight, anyway; given the stereotypical zombie presentation shows them with glazed-over eyes, cataracts or otherwise damaged eye sockets and optic nerves, I doubt they’d rely on that sense much, if for no other reason than lack of useful input.

        Which brings up another interesting idea; maybe the typical depiction of shambling and being uncoordinated or somehow deficient is actually due to them being formerly sight-based beings trying to adapt to a different selection of stimuli. Hmmm….

      • They don’t seem to react to blinding lights too. So I think you’re onto something with the cataracts. Enough to see a little, but not enough to depend on like a living human. I can see how that would be disorienting and cause them to move slower and less coordinated. That sense change combined with stiffness of limbs would certainly do a number on them.

      • zathra

         /  December 8, 2014

        Smell ? Could they ignore their own ” ripe ” odor ? They seem to react to sound effectively.

      • They probably could. Many people don’t notice their own body odor. It’s really weird.

      • zathra

         /  December 8, 2014

        A ” fresh ” zombie would be a whole lot more acceptable. Of course a living human would be best / favorite.

  10. Thanks for the awesome mention, Katie!

    Reply
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