As we head towards Mother’s Day and the time for celebrating mums, one thing is clear. Not all mothers are created equal. That’s the truth.
However, good or bad, we all need them – from the tiny ants that drink their own babies’ blood, to the majestic elephant who carries her huge baby for 22 months before giving birth – every living creature needs their mum.
No matter what you think of your own mother, some of these mums will make you forever grateful for the one you have.
CELEBRATING MUMS – WHAT ALL HUMAN MOTHERS KNOW
One of the first things every human mother learns is that everyone is a great mother, especially those who have never done the job.
Everyone is quick to offer their gems of wisdom to new mums and many are quick to judge parenting skills.
These judgements are often unfair as the picture always looks so different from the outside looking in.
That’s a good thing to remember when you read about the following mums in the animal kingdom.
CELEBRATING MUMS – THE BAD
From the outside looking in, these mums seem truly horrible. However, there is a somewhat crazy method to their madness.
These tiny insects drink the blood of their babies. The queen ants feed on the blood of the live larvae in their colony. Gruesome as it sounds, it doesn’t kill the babies. It’s known as non-destructive cannibalism.
Smaller than a sesame seed, these tiny ants, from Madagascar, have also been named the fastest animal in the world.
They can snap their jaws together so fast they can do it 5,000 times in the time is takes us to blink an eye!
They make small incisions in their babies and drink their blood, leaving just enough blood to keep the babies alive.
Another member of the wildlife world that enjoys feasting on their babies.
When a mother skink realises she’s set up the nursery in a place surrounded by predators, she eats her eggs before they hatch, giving her the nutrients to try motherhood again at another time.
We humans may frown upon mothers who abandon their babies, but rabbits do this all the time.
Once they’ve given birth, they leave the burrow, only to return from time to time to feed the kids. After about 25 days, the mums don’t return at all.
Scientists think this is to prevent alerting predators to the location of the burrow and the helpless litter.
CELEBRATING MUMS – THE SMART
Some mums are particularly smart. Take the seahorse, for instance.
These fascinating fish partake in a beautiful courtship dance that can last up to eight hours and culminates in the female depositing her eggs in the male’s pouch.
The males then give birth to up to 2,000 eggs.
Handing that job over to the boys makes seahorse mums quite smart in my book.
Another smart mum is the cuckoo who has worked out how to avoid the hard work of motherhood.
Cuckoos sneakily lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, making the other birds believe the eggs are theirs.
Cuckoos usually choose the nests of smaller birds and when the large cuckoo baby hatches, it demands more food and often the other babies in the nest are neglected and die. This means the adoptive parents can put all their energy into raising the cuckoo chick.
Kangaroo mums can actually delay gestation depending on conditions. During droughts when food is scarce, female roos will not get pregnant. That’s pretty smart!
More than that, they can even determine the sex of their offspring. Research shows during her first few years of mating, the mum will prefer having daughters, but as she gets older, she prefers sons. It is still not known why this is.
Kangaroo mums form very strong bonds with their babies.
CELEBRATING MUMS – THE UGLY
Pipefish have a similar ritual to the seahorse, where the mum passes the eggs to the father to give birth when they are ready.
However, scientists discovered the males sometimes eat up to half of the babies – especially those from small or unattractive females.
CELEBRATING MUMS – THE GOOD
Just as good human mothers outnumber those who are ‘bad’, there are more good mothers in the animal kingdom and here are some that top the list.
Much as you may dislike them and they may scare you, some spiders are amazing mums.
Some species of Stegodyphus spiders watch over their eggs with devotion until the babies hatch.
When they are born, the mother feeds them until they are about a month old, then she rolls over on her back and allows her kids to climb all over her, injecting her with their venom and then devouring her.
The South American spider Mesabolivar aurantiacus holds the egg sac constantly in her jaws until it hatches.
Wolf spiders carry their eggs on their back and continue to carry the babies, once they have hatched until they are old enough to fend for themselves. That can be 100 or more babies to carry around.
Elephants carry their babies – sometimes weighing more than 113 kilos – for 22 months before giving birth.
When the babies are born, the other females in the herd all help to babysit, but the bond between the mother and baby is considered by many to be one of the closest in the animal kingdom.
A female octopus can lay around 200,000 eggs and is extremely protective of them all, so doesn’t eat in the time it takes for them to hatch.
It can take from two to 10 months for the eggs to hatch, depending on the species.
The mother octopus is starved nearly to death and may even go as far as eating her own arms rather than leave her eggs in search of food.
This self-cannibalism may also be the result of a virus that takes hold of a stressed octopus, possibly stressed from lack of food.
Ever wondered where the term mother hen came from?
Chickens show true empathy and also distress when their babies are threatened, according to research.
Mother Emperor Penguins leave their egg with the dads after laying it.
This is not abandonment though.
The mother travels more than 80 kilometres to reach the ocean and its feast of fish. The journey is fraught with danger. If she survives, she returns to regurgitate the food to the newly hatched chick and then keeps it warm and safe in her brood pouch.
Whale mothers’ devotion goes way beyond caring for their babies.
They are fierce defenders of their young and even menopausal mummies help support their sons by finding food and defending them from other killer whales.
Male orcas over 30 years-old were found to be three times more likely to die within a year of their mother’s death if she was of reproductive age. The risk grew if the mother whale was more than 30. Interestingly, whale mum deaths seem to have less impact on their daughters’ survival.
Orangutan mums are more similar to their human counterparts in that baby orangutans rely completely on their mums for food and transportation during the first few years of life.
The mums stay with their babies, teaching them how to find food and other survival tips until they are around seven years old.
Some orangutans ‘visit’ their mothers until they reach the age of 15 or 16.
CELEBRATING MUMS – FUN FACTS
- History’s most prolific human mother, according to the Guinness Book of Records, was from Shuya, Russia, and gave birth to 69 children in the 18th century, from 27 pregnancies.
Known as “the wife of Feodor Vassilyev”, she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. Bet she wished she was a seahorse.
- The youngest mother on record was a Peruvian woman named Lina Marcela Medina. She gave birth when she was just five years old. Too sad to think about.
- The oldest mother, according to the Guinness Book of Records, Maria del Carmen Bousada de Lara, was 67 years old when she gave birth to twins conceived through IVF with donor eggs in 2006. However, there have been unverified claims of even older women giving birth.
- One of the most prolific breeders in the insect world in the African driver ant, which can produce three to four million eggs every 25 days.
- The mola, or ocean sunfish, releases around 300 million eggs each spawning season.
- Bluefish tuna can produce 10 million eggs every year.
- The tailless tenrec of Madagascar has litters of up to 32.
- The biggest breeder in the bird world is the grey partridge, which lays up to 22 eggs.
Here’s to celebrating mums. All mums – the good, the bad and the ugly.
If you’d like to celebrate by giving your mum a homemade gift, check out these fun projects.
Have a gleeful week, Tamuria.