Self-cannibalism is the practice of eating oneself, also called autocannibalism, or autosarcophagy. A similar term which is applied differently is autophagy, which specifically denotes the normal process of self-degradation by cells. While almost an exclusive term for this process, autophagy nonetheless has occasionally made its way into more common usage.
As a natural occurrence
A certain amount of self-cannibalism occurs unwillingly, as the body consumes dead cells from the tongue and cheeks. Ingesting one's own blood from an unintentional lesion such as a nose-bleed or an ulcer is clearly not intentional harvesting and consequently not considered cannibalistic.
As a disorder or symptom thereof
Fingernail-biting that develops into fingernail-eating is a form of pica, although many do not consider nail biting as a true form of cannibalism. Other forms of pica include the compulsion of eating one's own hair, which can form a hairball in the stomach.
As a choice
Some people will engage in self-cannibalism as an extreme form of body modification, for example eating their own skin. Others will drink their own blood, a practice called autovampirism, but sucking blood from wounds is generally not considered cannibalism. Placentophagy may be a form of self-cannibalism.
As a crime
Forced self-cannibalism as a form of torture or war crime has been reported. Erzsébet Báthory allegedly forced some of her servants to eat their own flesh in the early 17th century. In the 16th century, Spanish colonizers forced natives to eat their own testicles. Incidents were reported in the years following the 1991 Haitian coup d'état. In the 1990s young people in Sudan were forced to eat their own ears.
The short-tailed cricket is known to eat its own wings. There is evidence of certain animals digesting their own nervous tissue when they transition to a new phase of life. The sea squirt (with a tadpole-like shape) contains a ganglion 'brain' in its head, which it digests after attaching itself to a rock and becoming stationary, forming an anemone-like organism. This has been used as evidence that the purpose of brain and nervous tissue is primarily to produce movement. Self-cannibalism behavior has been documented in North American rat snakes: one captive snake attempted to consume itself twice, dying in the second attempt. Another wild rat snake was found having swallowed about two-thirds of its body.
- Erysichthon from Greek mythology ate himself in insatiable hunger, given him, as a punishment, by Demeter.
- In an Arthurian tale, King Agrestes of Camelot goes mad after massacring the Christian disciples of Josephus within his city, and eats his own hands.
- Stephen King's short story "Survivor Type", about a man trapped on a small island.
- In the novel Hannibal, Hannibal Lecter recalls psychologically manipulating Mason Verger into eating his own nose and feeding his face to his dog. Lecter also feeds Paul Krendler part of his own brain.
- Autopsy's song "Severed Survival" is about resorting to self-cannibalism after being stranded on a barren island.
- The short story "The Savage Mouth" by Japanese science fiction writer Sakyo Komatsu deals with self-cannibalism.
- In the Japanese horror movie Naked Blood, a woman eats herself with a knife and fork, after taking pain dulling drugs.
- Banika Conchita from Evillious Chronicles series eats herself in the music video Evil Eater Conchita after she develops a 'taste' for the servants and chef.
- The Norse creature Midguard Serpent is said to be biting its own tail, surrounding the world.
- The December 31, 2011 guest comic for the comic strip Bizarro featured a man about to eat a hand sandwich. It is titled "Radical Locavore".
- Self-cannibalism is the base of the plot of a science fiction horror short story The Boneless One by Alec Nevala-Lee, in "The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection" (called "autophagy" there).
- In the Mel Brooks parodic film Spaceballs, the character Pizza the Hutt is said to have eaten himself "to death" after getting locked in his car.
- In the show Friends , Monica is said to have eaten small portions of her right upper arm.
- In George R. R. Martin's novel A Clash of Kings, following her forced marriage to Ramsay Snow and being locked away, Lady Hornwood is found dead of hunger after presumably eating her own fingers.
- In the horror novel Ritual by Graham Masterton, an exclusive dining club exists wherein the members remove and cook their own body parts before eating them.
- In the manga series One Piece, after being stranded on an island, Zeff ate his own, previously severed leg to avoid starving to death.
- In the show Firefly , Reavers eat themselves, as well as doing numerous other extreme body modifications.
- "Man-eaters: The Evidence for Coastal Tupi Cannibalism" mei(sh) dot org
- Mikellides AP (October 1950). "Two cases of self-cannibalism (autosarcophagy)". Cyprus Med J 3 (12): 498–500. PMID 14849189.
- Benecke, Mark "First report of non-psychotic self-cannibalism (autophagy), tongue splicing and scar patterns (scarification) as an extreme form of cultural body modification in a Western civilization"
- See Benecke above.
- NCBI PubMed
- Adams, Cecil "Did Dracula really exist?" The Straight Dope
- Miguel A. De La Torre, "Beyond Machismo: A Cuban Case Study" (citing Diana Iznaga, "Introduction" to Fernando Ortise, Los negros curros (La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1986) xviii-xix.)
- Chin, Pat. "Behind the Rockwood case" Workers World, April 6, 1996
- Lambeth Daily News 6 August 1998
- Taber, Stephen Welton (2005) Invertebrates Of Central Texas Wetlands, page 200.
- Mattison, Chris (2007). The New Encyclopedia of Snakes. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 105. ISBN 0-691-13295-X.
- "Radical Locavore". thecomicstrips.com. Retrieved 14 January 2012.