On Mother’s Day, as we talk about the supremely important role that our mothers (and other maternal figures) have played in our lives; it’s important to acknowledge that maternal emotions aren’t the sole kingdom of humans. Animals are very maternal too, sometimes to the point of self-destruction.
Here are a few animal mothers (and fathers who take on maternal responsibilities), who deserve a special mention for their extreme devotion to their babies:
Octopi are semelparous .i.e. animals that give birth only once in their lives. Why only once you ask? Because they die right after they give birth.
Octopus eggs can take up to 10 months to hatch, depending on the species. When pregnant, the mother octopus finds a secluded cove to lay her eggs and then spends the entire gestation period never leaving the eggs’ side. She constantly blows a steady stream of freshwater on the eggs to keep them oxygenated and to get rid of parasites.
During this time she doesn’t leave the eggs to feed. The octopus momma starves herself to death. But it’s worth it in the end. Her martyrdom ensures that her thousands of babies hatch safely.
Are you a swimmer? What stroke is your favourite?
It wouldn’t surprise me if you didn’t choose backstroke. Not many people like it. But, if you are a sea otter mum, then you may have no choice but to swim in backstroke – especially right after the birth of your baby.
Sea otter pups can’t swim right after birth. In fact, they don’t learn how to swim until they are 6 months old. So, mothers turn themselves into the pups’ personal paddleboard.
For the entire duration of 6 months, the sea otter mum places the pup on her chest and swims on her back. During this time, she doesn’t swim like she normally does – on her tummy.
If she needs to feed, the mother blows air into the pups’ fur to make the pup buoyant. As an added measure, she wraps a blade of kelp around the pup’s body as a life jacket to make sure the pup stays afloat.
This constant backstroke swimming can take a lot out of the mother and she needs to feed at least 25% of her body mass each time she goes to forage for food.
Dolphins & Orcas
The most-fun mammal of the sea and her deadly cousin are two mothers who sacrifice a lot for their babies.
Both dolphin and killer whale (orca) newborns don’t sleep for an entire month after they’re born. Not even a wink of sleep.
Since they can’t leave their calves unattended in the dangerous waters, dolphin and orca mothers stay awake 24/7 for the entire month.
Most other species sleep for long periods of time right after birth. So, this wakefulness is something extremely rare. Studies show that lack of sleep can kill in some animals – rats being an example.
In humans, this type of insomnia is plain torture. I mean, can you imagine what sleep deprivation will do to you right after your delivery? Not to mention the added stress of a wailing baby. Plus, just like rats, we too can die due to sleep deprivation.
But, dolphin and orca moms take this in their stride and remain awake and alert as long as their babies need them to.
Emperor penguin dads are the model fathers. You could even say that they’re better parents than mothers.
You see, for four bone-chilling months, Emperor penguin fathers quite-literally stand guard over their developing eggs. The penguins have a small pouch in their body where they can store the egg, keeping it warm and protected from the cold Antarctic snowstorms.
This is no mean feat. Temperatures in the Antarctic can drop below (-4) degrees Fahrenheit, and sometimes go as low as (-30) degrees Fahrenheit! For four straight months, Emperor penguin dads protect the eggs from the freezing cold, making sure that the temperature doesn’t drop below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
During this gestation period, the dads don’t go out to feed and brave the storm together as a starving community. Around July, the eggs start to hatch, the mothers return from their feeding session and finally, dad gets to shake off the thick blanket of snow and go out to feed.
If you thought human parents had it tough raising their kids till the age of 18, you’ve got it wrong.
Orangutan mothers have it worse.
Female orangutans are single parents. Apart from donating sperm, the fathers play no role in the upbringing of the baby. It is the mother who needs to do everything, right from birth. And let me tell you, it isn’t easy raising a baby orang.
Orangutan babies are just like human babies – utterly and completely vulnerable. They don’t have any skills and need constant care. The mother orang nurses the baby and carries it around on her back for 3-4 years. In some cases, the baby nurses from the mother and uses her as transportation until he/she is 7 years old. Can you imagine if your kid did that to you?
Once the baby is weaned, the momma orang teaches it to climb trees, to identify edible fruits, to avoid predators, and sometimes (if the baby is a girl) to raise her own baby.
Overall, the baby orangutan spends 15-16 years with its mum. Things don’t get easier when organ babies reach adolescence and adulthood. Orangutans experience massive separation anxiety after getting separated from their children. So, you can imagine how the orang mother may be feeling once its time for her child to leave the nest.
Thankfully, some orangutan daughters do visit their mothers, even after leaving home. So there’s some hope after all.
So, before we end Mother’s Day 2020, let us give a big shoutout to all the moms out there – human and animal.