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Parenting tips from the animal kingdom

Source: Beatrice the Biologist

Source: Beatrice the Biologist

As I had so much fun researching the world of animal sex (perhaps too much?), I thought I’d take the logical step and write my next blog on that thing that so often comes after sex.


There are many odd parental strategies out there in the animal kingdom. Originally I was inspired by this cartoon from Beatrice the Biologist. From a human’s point of view, sea turtle mothers may appear very neglectful. If we did that it would be considered an epic parenting fail. But sea turtles have been around for 180 million years – so they must be doing something right!

It just goes to show how many strange strategies are out there and how effective they can be! With that in mind, here are some cool and different ways animals have babies… I recommend that you do not try this at home.


Adult Cuckoo (Source: Wiki Commons)

Adult Cuckoo (Source: Wiki Commons)

It has been said that cuckoos are born evil.

Instead of rearing their own young in a nest like most birds, the female cuckoo sneaks in and lays her eggs in other species’ nests. Once the chicks hatch, the baby cuckoo pushes out any of the original chicks and eggs from the nest, thereby ensuring it receives the entirety of the mother’s affection. The mother will then unknowingly feed the chick, even when it reaches a size greater than its own. Interestingly, this behaviour is innate  meaning the baby cuckoo does not learn this from its parents. On the surface this may seems barbaric and evil, but it is quite an effective way to pass on your genes.

Giant Pacific Octopus

In contrast to the so called ‘evil’ cuckoo, this parenting style is much more touching. David Attenbourgh called the female Giant Pacific Octopus one of nature’s most devoted mothers (in the first episode of his Life series, go to 2:45). It’s true that the mother makes the ultimate sacrifice for her 100,000 babies, even though only a handful will survive until adulthood.

The mother finds a den to lay her fertilized eggs, which she then lives in for the next six months, guarding and tending her eggs.  She doesn’t leave the den in this time to feed, and consequently starves to death: the ultimate sacrifice for her babies.

Gastric brooding frog

As the name suggests, the two species of gastric brooding frogs are unique amongst frogs because they incubate their eggs in their stomach. Following the external fertilization of the eggs by the male, the female will swallow them. The eggs are coated in a substance which halts the production of acid in the stomach so the eggs cannot be digested. The eggs then hatch inside the mother and the tadpoles complete a further 6 weeks of development inside their mother’s stomach before she regurgitates them back up.

Sadly the Gastric Brooding Frog went extinct in the 1960s.

 Phlebonotus pallens

Phlebonotus pallens is an amphibious cockroach which has wings, but not for flying. Instead they are specially shaped to cover her young, which are carried around under the wing case.

Not only does their mother give these young babies a mobile home, she also provides their food. While nestled on her back, the babies feed on their mother’s hemolymph (insect blood). They use their ‘baby fangs’, which are specialized mandibles that they lose when they grow up, to bite into her skin and suck out nutrients.



Seahorse (Source: WIki Commons

Seahorse (Source: WIki Commons

The seahorse is only known species where the male gives birth to the young. A dream come true, right ladies? All the female has to do is use her ovipositor (in short, this is kind of like a female penis) to deposit her eggs into her partner. The male then does the rest! After incubation he undergoes a short labor until he gives birth in young in an action that is quite similar to shooting a confetti gun (if the confetti gun was full of baby seahorses).

Not only does the male do all the messy birthing for his mate, he’s also quite the romantic. They mate under the glow of a full moon while he serenades her. What a stud.

One thought on “Parenting tips from the animal kingdom

  1. Informative with a sense of humour – we should have more blogs like this. Must be weird being a seahorse though – are you sure you just haven’t mixed up the male and female?!!

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