While human parents have nappies, terrible twos, school runs, homework and driving lessons to deal with, in the animal kingdom the parental tasks are as diverse as the animals themselves. They learn to swim, stand, and feed themselves and go to great lengths to ensure the survival of their species.
Animals are classified into two selection strategies. r-selected species live in unstable and unpredictable environments. The young have a very low chance of survival and to ensure some make it adulthood, they produce many young and reproduce quickly. This is mainly the case for bacteria, insects, small rodents and some reptiles.
On the other hand, K-selected species invest a lot of time and energy into fewer offspring which have a much higher chance of survival. They are usually long-lived animals such as elephants, whales and, of course, humans.
Seals teach their pup how to dig holes to breathe under the layers of snow, Slow Lorises who lick their venom into their young's fur to keep predators away while they hunt, otters blow air into their pup's fur so they won't sink - parental duties require a love and a lot of dedication!
It may sound strange, but sea lions and African elephants have something is common: they help each other with the upbringing of the young. In the Galapagos, groups of mothers will give birth together and live with the young while one male watches over them. It gives the mothers time to feed and they take turns watching the babies when they play together.
Elephants also live in herds of females. With two-year pregnancies, they have a calf every three to four years. When threatened, the older elephants form a circle to hide the youngsters in the middle.
Orangutans need eight years to prepare their babies for adult life and are mostly isolated during this time. It is the longest time to single parent in the animal world. The first lesson is to learn which fruits to eat and recognise when they are ripe. They also learn to build a mattress to sleep high up in the trees, which takes them three to four years. Because they spend so long together, there is a very strong bond between mother and child. She plays with them to develop their social skills, coordination and muscles and babies learn a lot by trying to copy their mother's behaviour.
Marine animals have their own child care to tend to. Male sea dragons carry up to 100 eggs. They use their bright colours to hide the eggs and keep them safe for two months.
Sea horses only carry the eggs for 10 to 25 days, but they are the only species known to have men go through pregnancy. The eggs hatch in the pouch and the male experiences muscular contractions to expel them.
Mouthbrooding is one of the more peculiar behaviours. Fish hold their young in their mouth to keep them safe. It is also called oral incubation. After a threat has passed, it spits them out again and will do so for the first two months of their lives.
The North Pacific Octopus though makes the biggest sacrifice for reproduction. Once in their lifetime, a female octopus carries eggs inside her for five months and then finds a safe hiding place to expel up to 100,000 eggs! She gathers them up and stitches them together. For six months, she keeps them clean from algae and produces air bubbles, still hidden away in a cave. She even pushes rocks in the entrance to keep predators out. During these six months, the eggs stay by her side and she doesn't even leave to get food. She turns grey and when she has become too weak, she blows her babies out of the den. The young grow quickly. The mother however makes it out of the cave, too weak to survive, and dies near the place she spent half a year caring for her children, earning her the title of most devoted parent.
By Claire Herbaux - Online Journalism Intern
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