HUMANS THE ONLY ANIMALS THAT CELEBRATE MOTHER'S DAY?
by Whit Gibbons
May 14, 2006
Considering the commercialization of Mother's Day, you might think that
humans have some kind of monopoly on the importance of motherhood and
may appear oblivious to what becomes of their offspring, but this is not
true at all. The ancestors of all animal species here on earth with us
today successfully jumped the high hurdles of evolution because of having
had good mothers.
the approaches are not the same ones humans use, some of the steps mothers
of other species take to raise their young are noteworthy. The complexity
of living systems interacting with their environments and each other makes
the mother mission particularly convoluted for some animals. The range
of variability among species in the level and type of attention parents
give to their offspring is remarkable. Some show active concern for the
welfare of their young in a manner we can recognize. Apes and monkeys,
for example, nurture, nurse, and care for their babies for an extended
period after birth, as humans do.
elephants, and alligators represent one extreme of motherhood. All have
mothers who are attentive to their offspring before birth and long after.
All will do what they can to protect their babies from harm. At the other
extreme are the mothers of most amphibians, reptiles, insects, and fish,
which lay eggs in selected spots and then disappear. The eggs and young
are on their own for the rest of their lives. But these species still
deserve a Mother's Day card for their front-end investment in their offspring.
a female slider turtle develops large follicles, which are equivalent
to the yolk of a bird egg, months before laying eggs. When the eggs are
fertilized by a male slider during the spring mating period, the developing
embryos have enough yolk to nourish the baby turtle for an entire year
during its early life. The mother lays the eggs in what she intends as
a safe, underground nest. So, although she drops the eggs, covers the
nest, and never looks back, she has done her motherly chore before the
baby ever reaches the water.
all mammal babies depend on mother's milk for nourishment. Even so, the
variability among mammal species is great. Two mammal species, the duckbill
platypus and spiny anteater of Australia, lay eggs. Tree shrews are mammals
that give minimal attention to their young. The female lives with her
mate in one tree and has her babies in a nest some distance away. She
visits the nest once every two days to let the young nurse. In contrast,
whales, porpoises, and manatees take on a much greater responsibility.
They must not only nurse the young but also make sure they nudge them
to the surface at regular intervals for air. Meanwhile, the marsupials,
such as kangaroos and opossums, not only nurse their babies but carry
them around in a pouch until they can fend for themselves.
birds actively perform as parents by at least incubating the eggs. And
in some cases both parents provide care even after the babies hatch, but
the mother gets the credit for laying the eggs and always being around
till the young are ready to fledge. Each day I watch a female house finch
feed her juvenile baby sunflower seeds. The baby, which may be equivalent
to a teenager, looks full grown and flies over to the mother with its
mouth open still looking for a handout. I will let readers draw their
own parallels with the behavior of human teenagers.
Can we declare which animals make the best mothers? The answer is no.
The parents of every species do what works best for them based on their
evolutionary history. Any species that is still around has presumably
been doing things right, whether by constant attention or complete disinterest.
The measures animals will take to protect their offspring are more impressive
for some than for others. But the mothers of all animals, including humans,
are so exceptional that it is fitting to have a special day to honor them.
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