Every parent knows that raising kids is a tough job. Most children stay at home until they are at least 18 years old, if not older, and their upkeep is usually expensive. Actually, a recent US Government report showed that it now costs an average of $233,610 to raise a child.
Human parents may invest a lot of time and money in raising their young, but that kind of devotion isn’t always echoed throughout the animal kingdom. Here, a lot of babies and infants are left to fend for themselves from a very young age, and some mothers even seem to go out of their way to make it difficult for their children to survive.
There are some animal mothers who deeply care about their youngsters, giving up not just time but often their own food supplies – and in some cases even their own flesh – in order to ensure that their child survives, and that their genes make it safely to the next generation.
When it comes to the animals on the list below, none of whom are going to win “Mother of the Year”, their babies have a much tougher start in life. Which of the following do you think is the worst mother in the animal kingdom?
15. Randy Rabbits
It’s no surprise that rabbits have a bit of a reputation when it comes to breeding. After all, they can have to up to 16 kits in one litter, and can be impregnated again within hours of giving birth! Mother rabbits will leave their babies alone almost instantly, often only stopping by the burrow to check on them once a day. While this behaviour may stink of abandonment, there is actual method in mother rabbit’s madness. By staying away from the burrow, she is also keeping potential predators away from her young – constant visits to her kits would only draw attention to their location and put them in harm’s way.
14. Darwin Frogs – Epitome Of Daddy Day Care
Baby Darwin Frogs, an endangered species of tiny frog found in South America, may have terrible mothers to contend with, but at least their dad sticks around to take care of them. After breeding, the females lay about 40 eggs, and that’s it, their job is done. After that, all the work is done by the male, who then guards the eggs for up to three weeks until they start to move. At that point, he will swallow about 15 of the eggs, keeping them even safer until they hatch into tadpoles, and then develop to become froglets. At that point, dad simply coughs up his kids, and off they go.
While lionesses aren’t typically the worst mothers in the world, the strange dynamics of the lion pride does rather affect their devotion to their existing children. Should the leader of a pride be dethroned by a younger, stronger lion, one of the first things he will do is kill the children of his predecessor. And amazingly, their mothers will just stand back and let it happen. This is because lionesses are programmed to want to pass on the best genes to future generations, and if the father of their children has been beaten, then his genes are no longer the most desirable for her young.
12. Hooded Grebe
Ask every parent if they have a favourite child, and they’ll be horrified at the prospect of having to choose. Not so, for the hooded grebe. This South American bird lays two eggs which she and her mate then incubate on floating nests. However, as soon as egg number one hatches, all three swim away from the nest, leaving egg number two to hatch all by itself. While this may seem cruel, the hooded grebe is just trying to maximize her chances of breeding successfully by laying more eggs than she can look after. Once the first chick is hatched, hooded grebes are actually very attentive parents.
Hamsters make adorable pets, with their cute twitchy noses and, well, their love for plastic wheels. Watch out if your pet hamster ends up pregnant, however, as you may soon find that your cute pet turns into something of a cold-blooded killer, as mother hamsters will often end up eating at least some of their young. Like the hooded grebe, it is thought that hamsters over-breed, and then have to abandon or get rid of the young they don’t have the energy to raise. Rather than let them go to waste, female hamsters just decide to put their extra babies to extra use, providing them with much-needed nutrition.
Female horses have developed a very strange social behaviour, apparently designed to disguise which stallion is the father of her foal. Once pregnant, a mare will continue to have sex with all the stallions in her vicinity. This helps to protect her foal from assaults by stallions who aren’t its father, as all the stallions think that the baby is theirs! Stallions can be very aggressive towards foals they haven’t fathered, so much so that if a pregnant mare is kept in the vicinity of a stallion that she is unable to have sex with, her body will actually abort the baby, rather than risk having it born only to be attacked or killed.
9. Tasmanian Devil
Tasmanian devils are the queens of hedging their bets when it comes to mating and rearing their young. Not only does the female devil mate with several males during breeding season – meaning that there can be multiple fathers in one litter – but she also gives birth to up to 50 babies, called joeys, at one time. Unfortunately for her massive brood, she only has the “equipment” to feed four of them adequately, which means that the rest of them are left to pick up the scraps or just slowly starve to death. Four out of fifty doesn’t sound like good odds to me.
Lizards aren’t noted generally for their affectionate mothering, but even among this rather cold-hearted (and cold-blooded) group, the long-tailed skink has to take the prize for the worst mom. Should mummy skink happen to lay her eggs when there are lots pf predators in the area, then she will simply eat her young before they even have a chance to hatch. Experts say that this is because she is trying to save both her young from the worse fate of being eaten by predators later, as well as restoring her own strength so she can have another go at breeding, at a more fortuitous time and place.
7. Burying Beetles
Every mother will know the feeling of being pestered – whether the child wants a particular toy, doesn’t want to go to bed or just can’t bear to be out of sight for a few minutes, most moms rarely get a minute’s peace. Burying beetles have an interesting approach to those of their offspring who pester too much – they eat them. Researchers have come to the conclusion that burying beetle mothers kill the young who beg too much, as those who only ask for food when they are really hungry are stronger, and are therefore much more likely to survive to adulthood.
6. Black Eagles
The black eagle mother often demonstrates the ultimate in hands-off parenting, even going so far as to allow one of her chicks to kill the other without interfering in the slightest. The nest-based squabbles are common among eagles, and mom will happily sit back and let them get on with it – even when the stronger sibling goes as far as to kill their weaker brother or sister. Stepping to stop the fight might seem like the motherly thing to do, but she would only be saving a weaker bird – one far less likely to survive than it’s much tougher and more aggressive nest-mate.
Everyone loves pandas, especially their adorable little babies. Everyone, it seems, except mother pandas themselves. Pandas, which are well known for having difficulties in breeding, will usually have two cubs, but mom will only ever raise one, leaving the weaker sibling to die. Of course, this is yet another example of the female panda prioritising her resources, and giving the stronger cub the best possible chance of survival. These days, panda breeding centres make sure that all their cubs survive regardless of whether mom is paying attention or not, but things were very different for panda families in the wild.
4. House Sparrow
The house sparrow is a perfectly good mom to its own chicks. It is actually the babies of other sparrows that have to watch out! Breeding time for sparrows is like something out of Jerry Springer, with mother sparrows making it their mission to get back at any other sparrows who have mated with the father of their chicks. After all, they want daddy to devote all his time and attention to her babies, not somebody else’s. In order to ensure this happens, sparrows will often attack the nests of other birds, destroying eggs and even killing birds – all to make sure their mate comes home at night.
3. Black Bears
The old line about never getting between a mother bear and her cubs doesn’t always apply to black bears. In fact, sometimes female black bears will go so far as to get rid of one of their cubs themselves, if they come to the conclusion that the baby is too weak to survive, or if they are struggling to raise two or sometimes three cubs, without putting themselves in danger. Once the favoured cub has been chosen, however, black bear moms are fiercely protective parents. You just don’t want to be the runt of the litter in this particular species.
2. Harp Seals
Baby harp seals, also known as pups, spend a very confusing first two weeks on the planet. When they are first born, mom couldn’t be more attentive, feeding her pup every day on high-fat milk that helps them build up the protective layers they are going to need to survive the icy temperatures in the North Atlantic. However, after 12 or 14 days, all this love and attention abruptly disappears. The pups are weaned almost overnight, and are pretty much expected to fend for themselves from then on, with many female harp seals putting themselves straight back on the motherhood market.
And then we come to the cuckoo, the undisputed queen of absent parenting and truly one of the worst moms in the animal kingdom. Not only does this sneaky bird lay its eggs in the nests of other birds, forcing them to do the hard work of hatching the chick, but they don’t even come back to see the fruit of their womb when it has hatched, leaving all the work of rearing the chick to whichever bird they dumped their egg on in the first place. If children’s service existed in the bird world, you could be sure they’d want a word with cuckoo moms.
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