Mar 18

As it’s Mother’s Day here in the UK today, us nature-lovers at ARKive thought it only fitting to find some weird and wonderful facts about motherhood in the animal kingdom for you all to enjoy!

Koala mums provide an interesting meal

Photo of koala joey with mother

A female koala normally gives birth to one baby every year. The newborn ‘joey’ is underdeveloped and crawls rapidly through the mother’s fur to her pouch, where it suckles for six months. In addition to milk, the joey also feeds on a substance called ‘pap’, which is a liquefied form of the mother’s faeces. This may sound pretty disgusting but it is very important as it provides the joey’s digestive system with the micro-organisms necessary for digesting the otherwise poisonous eucalyptus leaves. So it turns out mums only tell you to finish your dinner because they care!

Fancy being holed up in a tree for 4 months?

Image of great hornbill female inside nest cavity in hollow tree, with chick

Well, the female great hornbill has to do just that! As with many hornbill species, the female great hornbill builds a nest in the hollow of a large tree trunk and then seals herself in with a plaster made of up mud and faeces. A small, narrow slit is left through which the male can pass her food whilst she incubates a clutch of 1 or 2 eggs for up to 40 days. Once the eggs hatch, the chicks remain inside the nest with the female for a further 3 months. Talk about cabin fever – this is a true sign of a mother’s protective instinct for her young as this technique greatly reduces the risk from predators.

The ultimate sacrifice

Photo of female North Pacific giant octopus guarding eggs

The female North Pacific giant octopus has to top lists for sacrificing the most to raise her young. After mating, she will lay between 20,000 and 100,000 eggs over a period of several days. The eggs are laid in strings which the female hangs inside a rocky den, and from then on she will aerate the eggs with a stream of water and groom the eggs to remove parasites. Depending on the water temperature, the incubation period can last up to eight months, during which time the female doesn’t feed at all! Unsurprisingly, the female usually dies from starvation shortly after the eggs hatch. What lengths some mothers will go to to take care of their little ones!

Talk about a rude awakening!

Image of reticulated giraffe female with young

The reticulated giraffe has a single calf that begins life with a two metre drop, as females give birth standing up – sounds crazy but it’s true! Designed for an abrupt entry into the world, the newborn calf is even able to stand within 20 minutes of being born. At a year old, young giraffes have been weaned but remain close to their mothers until at least 22 months old, often remaining nearby for life. Awww…!

No need for a pram when your mum is as strong as this spider…

Image of female wolf spider carrying young on back

The female wolf spider lays her eggs soon after mating and then carries them around in a silk cocoon attached to her body by spinnerets. After hatching, the spiderlings cling to the female’s body for around a week before they disperse. If only we could carry that many babies on our back!

Carry me, carry me…

Photo of Sumatran orangutan and young interacting

The female Sumatran orangutan has a strong maternal instinct and is very protective of her young. She carries her infant constantly for the first 2 to 3 years of its life – which sounds exhausting to us humans! The young orangutan remains close to its mother until it reaches around 5 to 6 years old showing the strong bond between them.

A dedicated mother in the insect world…really?

Photo of a female common European earwig with eggs

Yes, really! The common European earwig is one of the few non-social insects to show dedicated care of offspring. After mating, the female lays 50 to 90 white eggs in a nest on the ground. During the winter she fiercely defends the eggs against predators and keeps them free of mould by licking them – although this sounds horrible, it’s no different to us humans keeping our babies clean! Even after the larvae hatch, the female still cares for them during the early stages of life – now that is true commitment!

Brown bear mothers have a sweet and caring side too…

Brown bear, Alaskan population, suckling young

The female brown bear usually has between 1 and 4 cubs in a litter and these are born inside a den sometime between January and March. Incredibly, the mother is actually hibernating when she gives birth and whilst nursing her cubs. This uses up a considerable amount energy and the mother can lose up to 40 percent of her body weight whilst hibernating! Once the snow melts and spring arrives, the mother and cubs will leave the den and remain together for the following 2 to 3 years. Told you brown bears make lovely mothers!

See if you can find another interesting fact about mothers in the animal kingdom and let us know!

And of course, Happy Mother’s Day from all of us here at ARKive!

Rebecca Sennett, ARKive Media Researcher