Points on Pets
By Jaime Stephens
With Mother’s Day approaching on May 9th, let’s take a look at some of the best, and worst, moms around; no, you probably won’t know them – these are the mothers of the animal kingdom. Some are worthy of high accolades while others, like their human counterparts, should perhaps remain without spawn.
First, the best moms. Like Dr. Rainbow Johnson (Black-ish), Carol Brady (The Brady Bunch), and June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver)–these are the moms anyone would be lucky to have. Orangutan moms and their young experience an incredibly strong bond, second only to the bond that humans have with their young. Mothers support their babies completely for the first two years of their lives, for both transportation and food. Moms stay close to their young for six to seven years, showing them the way of the world while nursing the entire time – one reason they only reproduce every seven or eight years!
Elephant mothers carry their babies for nearly two years before they give birth. They then ensure their babies get the best food, teach them the most useful skills, and show them how to lead the herd during times of trouble. Young elephants learn how to pick the best plants for eating, how to defend against predators, and how to navigate steep embankments – all from mom. Female elephants spend their whole lives living in tight family groups with their female relatives; the eldest normally leads the group. It is truly a matriarchal society!
Polar bear moms are known to be excellent mothers. They endure and sacrifice much just in order to give birth. While they mate in the spring, they don’t actually become pregnant until fall, after they’ve been able to store up their energy sources – food in other words, so they can survive a long winter and provide proper nourishment for their cubs. This process is known as delayed implantation and ensures that only the strongest, fittest, and fattest females with the best chance of successfully giving birth to and raising cubs actually become mothers. Once moms create a den, usually in October or November, they remain inside, without eating, until March or early April. Despite this long seclusion, polar bear cubs only actually gestate for about three months – cubs are typically born in late December or early January – and emerge as tiny, blind, helpless creatures. They spend the next two to three months consuming their mothers’ rich milk and growing rapidly. Cubs often grow from two pounds at birth (about the size of guinea pig) to 18-30 pounds when they emerge from the dens.
Giraffe moms have a gestation period of 15 months. When they do give birth, their calf will weigh 100 to 150 pounds and be around 6 feet tall. Within thirty minutes, the baby giraffe begins to stand and eventually walk with its mother’s encouragement. Since the young giraffe can’t run fast, its mother will hide it or leave it with other mother giraffe “babysitters”—known as a creche—while she searches for food. Like most moms, giraffes don’t get much sleep. They are always on guard, protecting themselves and their offspring, and only sleep approximately thirty minutes per day, usually standing, just for a few minutes and no longer than five at any time – the shortest of any animal in existence. The reason for this? An animal as large as a giraffe lying down in the grass is a huge (pun intended!) temptation for predators lurking nearby. Giraffes are big and able to run as fast as 35 miles an hour. When alert, they aren’t easy targets. Sadly, giraffes are now vulnerable to extinction, due to poachers and habitat loss, with less than 69,000 remaining as of August of 2019.
Lower marks go to these moms, who may never win the title Mother of the Year:
Hamster mothers have been known to eat their young. There are several reasons they may do this, including stress, fear, not having enough to eat, and the inability to care for a large litter. Additionally, if a mother hamster detects a human smell on one of her offspring, she won’t be able to recognize them and will consume what she considers to be an intruder.
Nearing extinction, Darwin frogs, found in the forest streams of Chile and Argentina, are very hands off mothers. Fortunately, male Darwin dads make up for this as a mom’s only job after mating is to lay approximately 40 eggs; males then guard the eggs for a few weeks and then swallow a handful of them. The eggs remain in dad’s vocal sac for around two months until he expels fully formed frogs.
The award for worst animal mother, however, goes to the cuckoo. The female cuckoo lays her egg in another bird’s nest (known as brood parasitism). She will eat one or more of the other bird’s eggs to make room for the cuckoo egg. The owner of the nest will hatch the egg and raise it as her own. The cuckoo chick is also able to replicate the sounds of the host’s chicks. When the chick hatches from its egg, it pushes out the other eggs in the nest leaving itself as the only child. The new parent raises the cuckoo as its own. She never seems to notice the different attributes its child has, such as its huge size or coloring. The foster parent just assumes that whatever hatches in their nest is their own.
Here’s wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to all moms everywhere!
#loveyourmamaJaime Stephens lives in Alexandria with her husband, John, and cats Pookie and tripod OJ