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In "The Thousand and One Nights", the ghouls were vile tricksters and ravenous flesh eaters. They kidnapped victims and lured lustful men to their doom by taking the guise of beautiful women. Sometimes they even snuck into storerooms and munched on dates. The Arabic texts apparently did not identify them as grave robbers who dined on the dead. So I guess they won't turn down a living meal if the situation presents itself.

A panda's diet is 99% comprised of bamboo. But bamboo doesn't have a lot of nutritional value, so pandas have to eat 26 to 83 pounds of bamboo a day. I'm not an expert on biology but does that mean ghouls need to eat a lot of humans if their digestive system can only breaks down one type of food?

Pandas are from the animal order Carnivora, though, and so they occasionally will eat small rodents. I imagine this is true for ghouls too.

My question is: if ghouls are able to derive nutrients from flesh other than humans, why would they prefer to hunt and feed exclusively on humans? From my point of view, the ghouls risk being exposed if a lot of humans go missing.

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    $\begingroup$ Grass eaters -- e.g. bamboo, which is a giant grass -- have to eat a lot of it because it has very low nutritional value. Most of what it does have is carbs: very little fat or protein. Flesh, on the other hand, is very high in protein and fat. Pure carnivores eat much less frequently than grazers -- some of the big cats only eat a couple of times per week. (Incidentally, meat is also much easier to digest: many herbivores -- including pandas -- will eat meat if they get it; they're just lousy hunters.) A human sized creature eats maybe a couple of pounds per day; one corpse could last weeks. $\endgroup$ – Securiger Aug 15 '18 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ Did you consider that there might be no reason other than that they're just evil and do this because they can? I mean, they come from Iblis, which is basically... the Devil. So what do you expect them to feed on? Surely they wouldn't be vegans helping the poor and needy. Or, repair your shoes while you sleep. $\endgroup$ – Damon Aug 15 '18 at 14:11
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Prions

It's known that there are certain diseases that are caused by prions (misfolded proteins, largely specific to the species) and target the same species. (Some, such as BSE, a.k.a. "Mad Cow Disease" can affect other species though)

When a ghoul eats a human, the prions, instead of causing illness, are used like a catalyst or vitamin - they are necessary for the ghoul to remain healthy, instead of turning into a shambling corpse. (Think scurvy, Vitamin D deficiency, pernicious anemia, or even diabetes)

(Also, prions are often found in high concentrations in the brain, so the answer also applies to zombies)

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  • $\begingroup$ How many humans are infected by prions? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Aug 15 '18 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch A prion is a misfolded protein, so can just occur as a result of aging, much like cancer, or be passed on from your parents - and incubation can be over 15 years before symptoms. Some also have lesser or even beficial effects (e.g. maintenance of long-term memory) Obviously there is leeway, I was just attempting to work out why a specific chemical the ghoul requires exists specifically in humans, forcing them to be (at least part) of the ghoul's diet - and a prion infection (even just a locally abundant one, like kuru) fits that. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Aug 15 '18 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ Consider the behavior of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasitical protist that can only reproduce in the intestines of cats, so if it finds itself in a mouse, it (in some fashion) alters the mind of the mouse to be be less afraid of cats, causing the mouse to be eaten and the parasite be be returned to its prefered environment. There is a theory that toxoplasmosis (infection by _T. gondii), which is supposedly symptomless in human adults, actually causes the host to become more fond of cats, so-called Cat Lady Syndrome. (cont'd) $\endgroup$ – Malvolio Aug 16 '18 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ If a prion infected a ghoul, it might drive him to bite people, not to consume them but just to pass on the infection, in the way rabies is passed along: the virus makes its victim "furious", inclined to bite at any stimulus. Rabies, however, makes salivation extremely painful, so the victim quickly become averse to any stimulus, such as food and water, that stimulates salivation (giving rabies its old name, hydrophobia). If this prion did not have that effect, a side-effect of the biting might be eating. Because, heck, biting is hard work and a ghoul works up an appetite. $\endgroup$ – Malvolio Aug 16 '18 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Malvolio - that sounds more like a base for a different answer (this one says "ghouls require X as part of their nourishment, X exists only in human, Prions are good candidates for X" - yours seems more in the lines of "Y is a obligatory parasite of humans, if it finds itself in a ghoul, it'll drive it to bite humans so they are infected. Prions are a good candidate for Y"). Also note that a devoured human isn't a living host for this parasite... $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Aug 16 '18 at 8:33
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Humans are currently one of the most numerous large animals on Earth, and furthermore tend to concentrate in dense groups. For a creature that lives in cities and is able to kill humans easily, effectively and without significant danger of retaliation, humans will be the best source of meat. This would not have been a viable niche in prehistoric times, but it is now. People go missing all the time, especially in big cities.

Maybe in the far future, in a dystopian setting where population is high, food is scarce, and the value of individual lives are low, a subgroup of urban humans might adopt cannibalism as a major source of nutrition and evolve into a new species, growing better at snatching people off the street. Or perhaps they have been living alongside us in secret, having split off sometime since the growth of civilization.

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If a species is eating one specific type of food, their digestive systems have evolved to become adapted to extract the most nourishment from it and to be resistant to eventual poisons. This also likely causes their tasting buds to "like" that type of food, thus driving them instinctively towards the food they are best adapted to. One distinctive feature might be the nourishment human brains yield to them.

Plus they have the skill sets required, as described in the question, to hunt for humans, so why should they forsake their nature to go against it? Morality could be a reason, however Nietzsche may disagree:

He tells us that “man needs to supplement reality by an ideal world of his own creation.” That is, we are compelled by our biological natures to see the world through moral lenses, judging it in terms of good and bad, although the world is neither in itself.

Which could mean that ghouls would not see killing and eating humans as amoral, just as we don't see much amorality in eating cattle even though we could resort to eat stuff which is already dead or about to die like fallen fruit or animal corpses. Why should ghouls eat things which are less nutritious and tasty to them, which may be the things allowing them to reach their peak healthiness?

Another factor could be danger. However, that's something all species have to deal with anyway, especially carnivores. What if they are better off if continuing to take that risk, because doing what humans do simply does not cut it well enough (at least not up to ~2 centuries ago), or if they are intellectually-culturally unable to even consider that? It's not like humans consistently enact the most moral and best systems imaginable, so why would you expect them to step over their shadows in such regards - even if they are capable of thinking as humans?

There are plenty of arguments against this notion, but relations based on violence and coercion (parasitic or exploitative) usually do not argue in fair terms, nor do they benefit from doing so. The predator will always seek for things that makes his life easier, or whatever is needed to adapt. It is likely it will never even come to that consideration.

I may have a, let's say, dark undertone in this, but I guess you are good to go with ghouls preying only on humans, not only on a biological standpoint, but also on social, moral and intercultural. Maybe it can assist as fuel for explanation from the side of ghouls.

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    $\begingroup$ Oh, very interesting that you take the argument further to a social standpoint. I guess most people are hardwired to curb the self-flagellation that occurs whenever we focus our thinking on the subject causing our cognitive dissonance. So even if ghouls think that eating humans are morally wrong, they would just silence any mental backchat. $\endgroup$ – fairsky Aug 16 '18 at 9:16
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Humans are yummy

They prefer the taste of human flesh over the flesh of rodents that crawl around everywhere. Especially when munching on humans that are well off and can therefore afford to be clean(er) most of the time compared with other animals. That would also explain certain preferences when it comes to humans - the more well off someone is, the higher the chance that they will be eaten.

The strategy to disguise as women to find some men would also fit when those men were rich and therefore cleaner, making them more yummy. More work for more tasty food. The same could of course be said about dining on female humans, but maybe it's just easier to lure men into their doom and they don't really distinguish between male and female humans - humans are all tasty.

In a dire situation where the ghouls have to fight for their survival or it's too risky to feed any more on humans they might try to feed on something else, but they simply prefer the taste of human flesh.

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Ghouls are traditionally a supernatural species, their lust for human flesh is, in large part at least, tied to this. In order to survive they need to consume not only food but also "life essence" for want of a better term. Normal foods have very little essence so they can sustain a ghoul physically for a time but they don't work for long. Humans aren't the most physically pleasant or nourishing food but they have essence to spare, the fresher the better. Only a steady diet of human flesh can actually satisfy a ghoul's complete food needs.

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  • $\begingroup$ Dominions takes the angle that ghouls are people forced or tricked into cannibalistic acts. This soon becomes addictive (because magic) and the evil nature of the act brings on degeneration into a ghoul. $\endgroup$ – Windlepon Aug 15 '18 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Windlepon Okay, what is Dominions though? $\endgroup$ – Ash Aug 15 '18 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ It is a strategy game, they have invested a lot of time and research into various monsters and their take on ghouls is similar to your description. Notably that it is a supernatural lust for human flesh, rather than an actual need. $\endgroup$ – Windlepon Aug 15 '18 at 15:22
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  1. Meat is energy dense and very digestible. Bamboo is neither. If all you eat is one kind of meat, that is fine. There is not really an analogy between the diets of ghouls and pandas.

  2. Hunting is dangerous; hunting humans is dangerous for sure. Eating dead things you find is much less dangerous. In places where there is a high population density of humans there will be a steady supply of people who have died of natural causes. You might need to dig up the meat if people bury their dead. In places where dead bodies are put in rivers or undergo "sky burial" it would be easier for scavengers - which is likely the fate of the corpses disposed of in these ways.

The analogy is the jackal. Jackals occur from Africa thru the middle east to India and are probably the origin of ghouls - I bet a jackal would be thrilled to eat a bunch of dates too. Jackals will definitely dig up a grave and eat the contents. They are tricky and wily like foxes. But jackals do not hunt humans because they are little and weak and would get their jackally asses kicked. I might imagine that a moribund human might be helped with his transition by an especially brave jackal but more likely it would just sit and wait things out. So too ghouls.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, the diet of ghouls and panda wasn't the best analogy but I couldn't think of a carnivorous animal who only eat one kind of meat. Do you mean jackals from myth & folklore like the Greek God Anubis or the real-life omnivorous animals? $\endgroup$ – fairsky Aug 16 '18 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ @fairsky - /do you mean..." the one is based on the other. Consider a continuum. $\endgroup$ – Willk Aug 16 '18 at 13:22

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