In the run-up to Mother’s Day we thought we’d pay tribute to the best mothers in the animal kingdom, those particularly good at bringing up their offspring. Many have some weird and wonderful ways of rearing their young.
These mums have the most dependent babies in the animal world. They nurse them until they are six or seven and never put them down. The female babies stay with their mums longer than the males, so they can learn the skills needed to raise their own offspring.
Not only do elephants have to give birth to huge babies after a 22-month pregnancy, but they also have to lead their blind babies around. Part of the success of the elephant as a mother is the support she gets from her herd. Other female elephants are often happy to babysit and, if there’s a predator around, the whole herd will gather around the young to provide protection.
The fathers leave the mothers as soon as they have mated, leaving mum to almost double her body weight and then bring up the baby on her own, all in the freezing weather of the Arctic circle.
These mums are the ultimate teachers. They usually have four to six cubs to look after and none of them have survival instincts when they are born. It is up to the mother to teach them how to survive. They’ll learn how to hunt and avoid predators before leaving their mum after around two years.
Northern fur seals
These mothers and babies know each other’s voices so well that they can find one another in the midst of hundreds of other seals. The mums will go out to hunt for food, listening for the sound of their babies’ calls to find them again.
These sea creatures lay 50,000 eggs and protect them for the entire time it takes for them to develop and hatch. This is usually around 40 days; during that time the mother octopus doesn’t leave, not even for food, because she has to protect her unborn babies from predators. To stave off starvation, she may eat one of her eight arms.
Sea otter mums are truly devoted to their babies. They carry their young on their chests to keep them away from cold water and, when they have to leave them to forage for food, they wrap them in kelp to keep them from floating away. Otter mums have also been seen to care for orphaned babies.
Mothers will cluck to their unborn chicks, getting little cheeps back. They are devoted to their eggs, turning them up to five times a day. There have also been chickens so unwilling to leave their eggs that they would sit through a fire to be with them.
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