We know that in biology, a species evolves to better survive its planet and its various climates and geography, which is mainly a result of natural selection.

But, sometimes, this natural selection leads to consciousness, self awareness, and then intelligence. We know as a species, that life, or at least intelligent life has to exist somewhere in the VASTNESS of the universe, but there seems to be nothing.

One theory suggests that all intelligent life has to cross a great filter, meaning species have to avoid certain natural events or action, such as the sun exploding or even climate change. But one thing that doesn’t seem to be on the theory board is evolving themselves into extinction.

When I mean by “evolving themselves into extinction”, I mean that they either evolve to the point that their prey can’t compete, thus killing their main source of food, and causing a mass die off or extinction, or evolving to the point to were you cause more damage and harm to your own environment, thus killing your species

But this leads me to my question

COULD a intelligent species, or even a non intelligent species go extinct through some evolutionary path, or is this technically absurd?

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ A species doesn't evolve to "better survive". It mutates randomly, and if those mutations are beneficial, it confers advantage. Mutations can be disadvantageous. They can even be quite neutral until some event or circumstance makes them disadvantageous... meaning that many or even all of the individuals are affected suddenly. Evolution isn't really directed. Many species in the real world have "evolved themselves into extinction". Doesn't even require human-level intelligence. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_elk . $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Mar 3, 2020 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ The Asgard (SG1) say "yes", having done exactly that. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Mar 3, 2020 at 15:36
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I feel like you need to take a good ol’ look at the last extant member of the ‘homo’ genus... $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Mar 3, 2020 at 16:08

5 Answers 5


Well, looks like the first case:

they either evolve to the point that their prey can’t compete, thus killing their main source of food, and causing a mass die off or extinction

is very unlikely due to how evolution and mainly, the population development works. The simplest model of population growth shows that if the population gets too big, it shrinks simply due to lack of resources to thrive. If it has too much resources, it grows. After certain amount of time it should stabilise and never exceed its limit.

The second case:

evolving to the point to were you cause more damage and harm to your own environment, thus killing your species

is what might happen to us, so, I'd say: plausible.


Evolve to abiological organisms, then go extinct due to technological failure.

This is a fairly well trodden trope - the advanced race uses technology, biological and otherwise which allows them use of better "bodies" to house their minds, but means the end of their lineage as a biological organism.

The Asgard in Stargate are an example.

The Asgard, pursuing means of extending their lifespans, began to use cloning technology. The mental patterns of Asgard that became ill or fatally injured were preserved by "downloading" them into computer memory crystals. The patterns were later placed in a new cloned body. This made the Asgard effectively immortal, but they lost their ability to reproduce sexually... The excessive use of the cloning process began to damage and degrade the Asgard genome. This would result in the eventual extinction of the race unless a cure could be found.

One might argue that the ability to clone new individuals means that the Asgard were not extinct as a race. Lots of organisms perpetuate themselves by cloning and evolution can still happen through chance mutation. It looks like the Asgard faced new existential threats as a result of this evolution to technological bodies.

A species which sets aside conventional reproductive methods in favor of technologically advanced methods (robot bodies, cloning, etc) could be vulnerable to extinction from threats that could be weathered by a conventional biologic organism. These threats might be novel and not forseen by the individuals who decided to move their species in this direction. Or under the circumstances necessitating such a move, threats to the tech might be forseen but accepted as necessary.


It is completely possible.

There are plenty of examples of this in science fiction. One example are the Asgard, from Stargate SG1. The quintessential grey aliens, they sought to become immortal. They eventually settled on a Heinleinian "transfer brain/consciousness between clones" system, allowing them to simply move into a new body every time their old one wore out. Over time, they started to experience problems with overpopulation. Since they ascribed to the Heinleinian School of Sci-Fi Thought, they decided that massive colonization was non-doable ("too expensive"), and thus instead decided to eliminate their ability to reproduce. Eventually, however, the excessive use of cloning degraded their genome, eventually killing them off.

That being said, you may not want to go that route. As a result, here's a real-world solution to your question:

Inevitable overspecialization.

On a basic level, evolution is the process of exchanging the long-term benefits of genetic adaptability for the short-term benefits of specialization.

A modern-day example of this is the Dodo bird. According to scientists, Dodo birds originally were a pretty standard bird, somewhat similar to a small flamingo (minus the pink coloration). Importantly, they were originally able to fly.

However, they then became stuck on the small island of Mauritius. As their population grew, they were forced to take on features like larger beaks, stronger talons, and more powerful necks. These allowed them to get enough food to survive, at the cost of making them too heavy to fly.

This worked really well for them in the (geologically speaking) short term; they flourished, and became the dominant lifeform on Mauritius. However, this overspecialization prevented them from adapting to no longer being an apex predator when the British arrived; they simply weren't able to adapt anymore. As a result, this overspecialization caused their demise.

To summarize, the short-term specializations which natural selection selects for are limit adaptability. Over time the amount of specialization builds up, until eventually creatures like dinosaurs and Dodo birds completely lose their ability to adapt. As a result, any middling-sized changed to their habitat is enough to make them go extinct.


Yes. This happens all the time. Species have been known to completely screw themselves over and wipe out their prey source by accident. Organisms in general do not have any ability to restrain themselves and conserve prey so they do not wipe out their food source. Only sapient species can do that. They just eat whatever they can find or catch. If that means eating all the individuals of a particular species so be it, they don't care or have the mental awareness that in the long run they are dooming themselves to extinction by destroying their food source.

A good example of this is when a predator is introduced into a new environment. The population booms in response to the new prey but then crashes once most of the prey has been eaten up. If the prey is too depleted the predator will go extinct before the prey populations rebound. This happens on s local level more frequently than a global one, but if it happens enough the species goes extinct.

The only reason this isn't super common in nature is most prey species (both plants and animals) have defensive adaptations that make it harder for them to be easily eaten.


Of course. Human beings are doing it now, by burning lots of fossil fuels, which will in several centuries cause the planet to heat up to such an extent that humans (and most vertebrates) can no longer survive. See e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian%E2%80%93Triassic_extinction_event particularly the part (4.2) about the burning of massive coal beds.


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