Anyone who watches nature documentaries is familiar with some great animal moms. Tigers teach their young to hunt, zebras take on whole lion prides to protect their babies, and orangutans spend up to seven years with their offspring, teaching them about life in the jungle. But these examples are all mammals. What about reptiles, fish, even invertebrates? You might be surprised at some of these great animal moms.
A crocodile mother puts a lot of time and effort into raising her babies. She starts by building or digging out a nest, which she guards for over two months! When the eggs are ready to hatch, the young crocs call out to their mother, who digs them out and helps them hatch. She then carries them gently in her mouth down to the water, where she will guard them vigorously for several more weeks or months until they learn to hunt on their own. According to Dr. Adam Britton on the Animal Planet website, the mother crocodile can recognize her babies both by chemical triggers, and the unique sounds her offspring make. Would you want to mess with a mamma crocodile?
The Discus fish, found in the Amazon, have a modern parenting arrangement. Both males and females secrete a mucus from their skin that feed the fry (baby fish) for the first few weeks of life. According to a study reported on the BBC website, moms and dads even trade off baby duty, “flicking” the fry back and forth when they need a break. After a few weeks, the parents start to swim away, encouraging the kids to start foraging on their own, but still protecting them from predators. Read the full story (and see picture of mom and fry) here.
While many invertebrates lay their eggs and disappear, scorpion moms go the distance to protect their babies. Scorpions give birth to live young, and carry them around on their backs during the first “instar”, or phase of their life. Baby scorpions are soft and have blunt stingers, so without parental care the would be quickly eaten by other animals. Some scorpion moms even feed their young until they are big enough to hunt on their own. While caring for babies might be a lot of work for mom, she gets to see more of her kids survive to make their own way in the world. And isn’t that the goal of all good mothers?
TG Benton Behavior Vol 117 No 1 / 2 May 1991 http://www.jstor.org/pss/4534928
Victoria Gill Tropical Fish are Mammal-Like Parents BBC News
Dr Adam Britton Animal Planet website