It’s Mother’s Day today in the US, so to celebrate we thought we would highlight just a few of the interesting and varied ways mothers in the wild nurture their young.
A fleet-footed caregiver
Our first mother is the fastest land animal in the world, achieving speeds of up to 87 kilometers per hour! The female cheetah usually has a litter of up to three or four cubs, and tends to move the young to a new den every few days to avoid predation. The death rate of young cheetahs is high, mainly due to the risk of predation by lions, hyenas and even baboons, so the female must do all she can to protect them.
A set of stripes only a mother would know
At the other end of the food chain we have the Grevy’s zebra, the largest of the equids. Mares give birth to a single foal after a gestation period of 13 months. Foals are able to stand within minutes of birth, and can run when only 45 minutes old! They remain dependent on their mother’s milk until six to eight months of age.
The preening queen
Oh, how mothers love to groom us! The yellow-eyed penguin is one of the most endangered of all the penguin species. Between mid-September and mid-October a clutch of two eggs are laid, and both parents help incubate them up to two months. For the next six weeks the adults will take it in turns to stay with the chick whilst the other forages for food.
A lizard that lays and leaves
For the Galapogos marine iguana, motherhood usually ends once the eggs hatch. Females lay between one and six eggs in sand or volcanic ash burrows. Females often guard the burrows for several days then leave the eggs to finish incubation, which takes approximately 95 days. After the young hatch they look like and act like miniature adults, needing no parental care. If only we had it so easy!
Having a whale of time!
There are also nurturing mothers in the sea, like this false killer whale with her calf. Despite its name, it is not a close relative of the killer whale, but it has been known to attack much larger humpback and sperm whales. After a gestation period of almost 16 months, calves are born measuring up to two metres in length and nurse for up to two years!
Maggie Graham, Program Assistant, Wildscreen USA