Humans aren’t the only parents on the planet to nurture and protect their children. Many parents in the animal kingdom are notorious for keeping their babies close, healthy, and fiercely guarded. Here are some of the best animal parents who will often sacrifice their own well-being for the sake of their children.
Geese have a strong family unit. Moms tend to their nest and care for their eggs, while dads guard the family and will babysit the eggs when moms go to get food. After the eggs hatch, dads help moms protect the young from predators. Geese parents raise their goslings together and are notorious for fiercely protecting them.
This may not be the case for all species of penguins, but many parents share responsibilities and take turns hunting for food and sitting on their young, so chicks don’t freeze to death. The Emperor penguins, made famous by The March of the Penguins and Happy Feet, portray the parents as loyal and show their sacrifices for their young. The male is responsible for the 65-day incubation period after the female lays the egg. Dad stands for weeks, balancing on his feet with no food and in the extreme minus temperatures while mom goes to sea to find food. When she returns, it’s dad’s turn to replenish his food reserves. They often travel great distances, going back and forth to find food for their family and care for their chicks.
The bond between mother and child in the orangutan species is said to be one of the strongest in the animal kingdom. Children stay with their mothers for almost a decade and depend on them entirely for the first two years for food and transportation. Mothers raise their babies mostly independently with little help from their fathers. The kids receive plenty of undivided attention as some orangutans will have a new baby every 7 to 9 years. Children leave their moms by the age of ten, but females can still visit until they are around 15.
African elephants herd in groups of females who work together to protect everybody’s offspring. Elephants have the longest pregnancy of any mammal – almost two years. They nurse their babies for around six months and sometimes supplement solid food until another baby comes, which isn’t for three or four years. If there is danger, the herd will form a circle around the calves to protect them from predators. If a calf is missing, the herd will work together to track it down. Elephants really live by the saying, ‘it takes a village.’
Lions are one of the most protective mothers. The lionesses help lead the pride by hunting for the males and caring for the cubs. Lionesses will nurse their cubs for two years but will nurse any hungry cub like a community. A lioness will do anything to protect her cubs from harm.
Panda mothers take great care of their cubs. They cuddle their babies and nurse them for up to nine months. They don’t let their cubs out of sight until they are at least 18 months, when they may become pregnant again.
Koalas are born blind, so the babies, called joeys, stay in their mother’s pouch feeding on milk for six months. While safe in the pouch, they get nutrients and grow to form their ears, eyes, and fur. Joeys typically leave their moms when they are twelve months old.
Capybaras are another animal that cares for each other’s young like a community. Each capybara typically has four to five babies at a time. All the babies are communally nursed by all the females in the group. This method allows all the offspring to stay in the group together.
Hens are highly protective of their babies, and she may not even allow anyone to see them when they are first born. Mother hens puff up and hide their babies beneath them to ensure they all remain with her. She will continue to shield them with her wings as they grow. Hens will also look after other mothers’ chicks to help and nurture them as their own. A hen will squawk and peck at predators to protect her chicks, even if it means sacrificing her life.
10. Poison Dart Frogs
After the mom lays her eggs, typically on the underside of a leaf, the dad takes over. The male guards the eggs until they hatch into tadpoles. The male then continues his duty by transporting each tadpole to its own pool of water in a bromeliad plant. Once each tadpole has its own home, dad travels to each of them daily to ensure they are hydrated and check on their growth. When hungry, dad stays with them while mom brings the food. The parents work together to ensure each tadpole survives.
When the female hornbill lays her eggs, she stays with them for a few months. The male flies back and forth, bringing her food and feeding her through a slit in a tree cavity. She remains with her eggs, sealed up and safe from predators. When the chicks are half-grown, the mother will break out of the tree cavity, and then both parents feed them until they are ready to leave the nest.
Female alligators protect their eggs from predators by carrying them gently in their jaws from the nest to the water. She will break the shells with her mouth to help them hatch and will carry them on her back when they need her. The babies stay with their mothers for up to two years.
Pigeons are known as very attentive parents and great partners for sharing parenting duties. The father and mother take shifts watching their baby chicks in the nest, never leaving them alone or exposing the eggs. Parent pigeons may become aggressive if anything gets too close to the nest. Pigeons generally leave the nest between 25 and 45 days, depending on the season.
Mother cats nurse their kitties and groom them regularly. The mother helps the kittens socialize, walk and move around at around three weeks. She may start weaning them anywhere between four and twelve weeks. Cats may hiss and become aggressive if they feel their kittens are threatened.
15. Wolf Spiders
Wolf spiders carry egg sacs attached near the end of their abdomen. They also carry their newly hatched babies on their backs like the opossums. The baby spiders will stay connected to their moms for a few weeks before dispersing.
Albatross parents share their duties equally, like pigeons and Emperor penguins. After the female lays a single egg, the parents spend the next 78 days incubating the egg. The partners take turns incubating the egg and gathering food. After the egg hatches, the partners fly out of the nest to forage for food. The child leaves the nest 165 days after hatching.
17. Polar Bears
Pregnant polar bears spend nine months sheltering in a den until their baby is born. They often go four to eight months without food, so they must pack double the weight during pregnancy to help sustain themselves. She goes out to hunt for herself and her children when they are ready for the trek. Mother polar bears are dedicated to their cubs until they are two-and-a-half years old. She always keeps them close and trains them to survive in the wild independently.
Baby dolphins, called calves, and their moms have a strong bond. Moms nurse their children for up to 18 months. Calves start swimming beside their moms right after birth, and moms create a slipstream in the water to help keep the babies beside them. Calves typically stay with their mothers for up to six years before they go out on their own.
19. Pacific Octopus
When a female octopus gets pregnant, she makes the ultimate sacrifice. She often lays thousands of eggs and must keep them oxygenated and bacteria-free by fanning the developing babies with her muscle organs called siphons. She protects her eggs until they hatch, which can take months, and doesn’t eat during that period. Once some of the little ones go out into the sea to live, she dies of starvation. The father octopus already passed away a few months after mating, so neither partner survives after reproducing.
20. Gray Kangaroos
Kangaroos are only pregnant for 21 to 38 days before giving birth to a joey. However, the babies stay in their mothers’ pouches for another 120 to 145 days. They eventually emerge from the pouch when they are 10 months old, but mom continues to nurse them for the next 8 to 11 months.
21. Orca Whales
Orcas live in family groups called pods. The parent and child bond is so strong that female orcas stay with their mothers for the rest of their lives. The male orcas leave to mate but also come back to their families. Mothers have one calf every five years and stay with them constantly. Mothers also sacrifice their sleep for the first month because calves don’t sleep.
22. Virgina Opossum
Like koalas, opossums carry and nurse their babies in their pouches. Baby opossums nurse for up to 65 days. They leave the pouch a few days later but remain attached to their mother’s fur until they are around one hundred days old. After that, they become independent and head out into the wild alone.
Chimpanzees have a solid bond with their mother and their siblings as well. Chimps usually give birth once every five years. The mothers are the primary nurturers of their babies, but babies also have close relationships with related females and older siblings who will help share in their care. They are highly protective of their infants and can be aggressive if threatened.
A mother giraffe spends most of her life either pregnant or nursing. Children giraffes will stay with their mothers for up to two years, but female giraffes may remain with their mothers until she passes away. Mother giraffes are always guarding their calves. They keep an eye open by only sleeping 30 minutes a day and for just a few minutes at a time.
Cheetah moms raise between two and eight cubs at a time, all on their own. She hunts to feed them, teaches them life skills, and she must also protects them from predators. Mother cheetahs also move their cubs to a new location every few days to keep them safe. She nurses her babies until they are about eight months old, and then mom trains them to hunt. Mothers will often adopt orphan cubs and assists with nursing them.
Mother gazelles typically give birth to one or two babies at a time. Babies try to stand on their legs as soon as they are born. Mothers hide their babies in tall grass for several weeks until they feel ready to join the rest of the herd. Mothers nurse their babies for around two months before their stomachs fully develop and can survive on other food. Moms then teach them to find feeding areas and how to forage.
27. Brown Bears
When cubs are born, they are naked, blind, toothless, and completely dependent on their mothers. A brown bear can have one to three cubs at a time. They spend the winter sleeping and nursing with their mother in a den. Mother bears devote two and a half years to raising their cubs before they go into the wild.
Mother pigs care for their babies and keep them close even after they mature. They prepare nests for their babies to rest in and keep them close to their bodies for warmth. Mother pigs can become aggressive if they think their piglets are in harm’s way.
Throughout their lives, gorillas stay together as a family, males, females, and children. A baby gorilla will ride on its mother’s back for around 9 months until they learn to walk. Gorilla moms keep their babies close and are very attentive parents. They are also fierce protectors.
30. Snowy Owls
After a female snowy owl lays her eggs, she sits on them until they hatch. The male feeds her while she keeps her eggs warm and safe. The eggs hatch after about a month. The babies leave the nest less than a month after they hatch. They can fly by the time they are a month and a half old, but their parents still take care of them for another ten weeks or more.
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