Mothering in the Wild: It’s Not for the Faint of Heart

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And you thought your mom was unique. Turns out, mothering in the wild is, well, wild. And occasionally terrifying, too.

These gals will never win the Mother of the Year award, but you’re not about to forget them, either:


Who wants to be the one to tell female elephants they’ve been gifted with the longest gestation period on the planet?

22 months. That’s how long mommy elephants carry their progeny around in their bellies. That’s some serious commitment. It could be argued, though, that they bear some of the cutest (and largest) babies around, so perhaps they can take comfort in that fact. Probably not, but it’s worth a shot.


 They’re cute! They’re fluffy! And they eat their young! Wait, what?


It’s true. Pretty much every situation in a female hamster’s life is cause to eat her young. Some are simply so shocked by their first birthing experience that they eat the babies. Others crave nutrients after the long labor and eat their babies. While still others, if their offspring are handled by humans too soon after being born, wait for it–eat their babies. And here you thought sleeping all day and playing all night in colorful tubing was the life. Think again.


Sure, baby orangutans are adorable and all, but nine years of togetherness?

Yep. Unlike most other animals, Momma Orangutan gets to look forward to one of the longest lead-ups to an empty nest in all the wild at an average of nine years. There’s lots to teach their little ones, for sure. But still, you have to wonder, where’s Dad?


That’s one way to say ‘I love you.’

So, turns out the male House Sparrow has commitment issues. No problem for this can-do mom. In the event that her mate starts a family with another, the female House Sparrow simply cruises on over to her opponent’s crib and kills all the offspring, effectively removing all fluffy chick competition. Ok, then.


 The mommy bottlenosed dolphin is my new hero.

Next time you hear a new mom complaining about lack of sleep, nod and say to yourself (in your head, otherwise you’ll be slapped), “you’ve got nothing on the bottlenosed dolphin.” Seriously. Newborn bottlenosed calves do not sleep for the first month of their lives. Read that again. You know what this means, right? Momma bottlenosed doesn’t sleep, either. And all that quality awake time without the aid of caffeine, mindless TV, or even the promise of a post-natal massage. Hard. Core.


Just what does the black eagle think about sibling rivalry? Not much.

Black eagle siblings are known for their violent squabbles–in other words, they’re just like human siblings. But the black eagle mom takes a somewhat different approach to disciplining her prodigy: stepping back and letting the two duke it out to the death. Grim, indeed. But not unusual in the bird world as a means of allocating food resources and guaranteeing the fittest of the eaglets survives.


And you thought your baby weight was out of control.

*As of this moment, no human mom has the right to complain about baby weight ever again. Do you know why? Well, it so happens that the female polar bear has to gain 400 pounds just to get pregnant. JUST TO GET PREGNANT, PEOPLE! Without the extra fat, she cannot feed her young during her three-month fast while tucked away in a snow den with the cubs. Crazy amount of weight gain and no snacks for a quarter of a year? Let’s give it up for Momma Polar Bear! *And resume complaining about baby weight now. Because the struggle is real.


This is inspiring and incredibly gross, all at the same time.

You know those nights when the kids are clamoring to be fed and you just don’t know what to make for dinner? Well, the female Stegodyphus lineatus spider has the answer–you’re just not going to like it. When the spiderlings hatch, mom stops eating and becomes a buffet–literally. She pierces her own abdomen and encourages the youngster to drain her innards. According to Science News, “the liquefaction process that makes this possible proceeds in an orderly way, dissolving organs as they become expendable. One organ that remains till the end is mom’s heart.” Not sure whether to say “awwww,” or “ewwwww?” Us, either.



Who did we miss? Any more amazing animal mothers out there who both delight and terrify at the same time? Tell us all about it in the comment below!

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Lydia L. lives in Seattle with two sweet, if slightly out of control, dogs. She loves reading, food, and the opportunity to make a difference.