There is no doubt that nature is a weird and wild place. There are a million and one different ways to get through this thing called life. In honour of the day today, Mother's Day, let's look at some of the strangest strategies the animal kingdom has for raising young and giving them the best possible start in life.
Image by Creepanta
Cuckoo mothers are special. Whether they know they aren't good mothers or that the babies are just better off with others, it doesn't change the outcome. Cuckoos sneak into other birds' nests and lay their eggs, hoping to trick the new parents into thinking that the egg is theirs and therefore raising the chick as one of their own. The cuckoo chick usually hatches first and grows quickly, and will usually push the legitimate chick out of the nest, so the parents focus all their attention on the cuckoo chick.
To get around this intrusion, some species of birds have devised a way to teach their young a secret password while they're in the egg. This way, when the chicks hatch, they will know if one of the chicks is an impostor and focus their attention on their legitimate chick.
Grey Whale mothers go the distance... literally, for their young. Pacific Grey whales feed in the cold arctic waters. However, to give their babies the best possible start in life, they give birth in the warmer waters near the equator. The total length they travel in a year is as much as 22 000 km (13 700 mi), which makes it the longest migration of any mammal known. The females give birth to the young in these warmer waters, and it gives the young a chance to build up their blubber reserves, which gives them a better chance in the cold waters.
Why this is so amazing is that the females don't eat while they are in the warmer waters. They still produce incredibly high-calorie milk for the young, but they don't eat it and instead live off their own fat reserves. The milk they produce is up to 53% fat, and during this time, the females can lose about 25% of their body weight, or 8 tons. All do give their youngsters the best possible start to life.
The Strawberry Poison Arrow Frog
Image by Dendrotoine85
The last one we will look at is the Strawberry Poison Arrow Frog. It is a native of the jungles of South America and only lays about 4 or 5 eggs that become tadpoles. Once they hatch, she places a tadpole on her back and carries it from their hatching pool to a separate pool in the tree canopy. Each tadpole gets their own growing pool and the mother goes between them, feeding them an unfertilised egg until they metamorphose and become their adult form.
These are some of the most interesting mothers in the animal kingdom. I deliberately did not look at species where the mother sacrifices her life for her young, although it is fairly common too. That's a story for another field note. To all the mothers out there today, Happy Mother's Day!