Moving on from my last post regarding Tahlequah, the orca who carried her deceased newborn calf through the waters of the Pacific Northwest coast for 17 days, I wanted to keep my next post relevant but a bit more on the positive side.
Killer whales are known to be great mums. After a 17 month gestation period, they give birth to a calf that is about 8.5 ft long and weighs around 120 to 160kg. Calves are typically weaned at around 1 or 2 years old and rely on their family pod to teach them vital communication, hunting, and survival skills. Resident killer whale calves will stay with their pod permanently, meaning mother and child stay together for life.
But what other creatures go above and beyond to care for their young?
Here are six other incredible animal mothers, who prove that the mother-baby bond isn’t strictly human.
Orangutans have the longest infant development period of all great apes. For the first two years of their life, they are completely dependent on mum. At this stage, they make the transition from hanging onto mum’s chest to riding on her back and dabble in eating soft foods – pre-chewed by mum. Of course.
At around 3 to 7 years of age orangutan infants begin to gain their independence, in this space of time they will be fully weaned, begin to climb, and search for their own food. They may also start experimenting with nest building, choosing to no longer share with mum but often staying in the same tree.
Despite this new found self-sufficiency, orangutan infants will remain close to their mothers for many more years to come – they will eat, sleep and travel together until the infant is around 10 years old. Female orangutans are known to visit their mothers until they are around 15 or 16 years of age.
The bond between mother and baby orangutans is one of the strongest and most beautiful in the animal kingdom.
After a gestation period of around just 34 days, baby kangaroos are born extremely underdeveloped. At birth, the young joey is only about 2cm long and weighs less than a gram! It immediately crawls through its mother’s fur and into the safety of her pouch, where it will suckle solidly for 2 months. At around 6 months of age, the joey will leave the pouch for the first time, returning regularly to feed.
Red kangaroos will leave the comfort of mums pouch at around 8 months but will continue to suckle until around 11 or 12 months of age. Grey kangaroos, on the other hand, don’t leave until they are 11 months and can continue to suckle until they are 18 months old. That’s one patient mum!
Did you know? Female kangaroos are able to suckle two young at the same time – one in the pouch and one outside, as well as having another egg ready for implantation.
Mother alligators usually lay between 35 – 50 eggs in a nest of vegetation. During incubation, the mother alligator will actively stay near the nest and protect it from predators – that includes humans. After a 65 day incubation, the baby alligators will start calling to mum from inside the eggs, these high pitched squeaks let her know it is time to remove the nesting material. After all the hatchlings have emerged from the nest, their mother will carry them gently in her mouth to the safety of the water. The young will rest on her back as she swims and call to her when they feel threatened.
Although these reptiles have a ferocious reputation, they are in fact very attentive. The young will stay close to mum for around a year, but they can remain together as a pod for up to three years.
Great hornbills are one of the largest members of the hornbill family. Despite having a 60inch wingspan and a weight of 2.15kg to 4kg, they choose to build their nests inside a large, hollow tree trunk. The breeding pair will work together to seal the opening of the hole shut – with a plaster made from faeces, chewed wood, mud and bark, and the female will remain trapped inside while she lays the eggs, incubates them, and cares for them once they hatch. The male will bring food to the female through a small slit left in the mud “door” that is just half an inch wide, large enough to pass food to mum and chicks, but narrow enough to prevent predators getting in the nest.
A clutch usually consists of one or two eggs that the mother will incubate for around 40 days. After the chicks have hatched the male may make up to 70 feeding trips a day, bringing everything from geckos, insects and berries to frogs and slugs.
For the different species of hornbill confinement for the chicks ranges from 50 to 90 days, by that time the mother has already broken out and resealed the door, in turn keeping the chicks safer for longer.
Elephants are the largest living and biggest-brained mammal on the planet, so it’s no surprise they have the longest gestation period of any mammal too – 18 to 22 months to be precise.
For the first 3 to 5 years of an elephant calves life, they are totally reliant on their mother. In this time they will be taught many life lessons, such as how to use their trunk properly for feeding, drinking and bathing. This “baby stage” lasts from birth to around 5 to 10 years of age, once the calf has been weaned off mum’s milk completely.
Like us, adulthood for elephants starts at around 18 years old. Most male elephants will now leave the main herd, while the females will remain and assist each other with nursing and caring for the new calves.
And an honourable mention goes to the…
Strawberry poison dart frog
At only one inch long the strawberry poison dart frog is an alluring creature. Not only are they smart – their bright red and black/blue colouration acts as a warning to predators that they are extremely toxic, but they are also incredibly hardworking.
Strawberry poison dart frogs mate during any time of the year, with the females laying between 3 and 5 eggs on a leaf. The breeding pair returns every day and the male will moisten the eggs by transporting water from his cloaca (effectively urinating on them). After 10 days the eggs hatch the mother frog will transport them on her back to the axil of the Bromeliad plant – depositing one tadpole per plant. Afterwards, the mother will come to each tadpole every few days and lay up to 5 unfertilized eggs for them to eat.
After 43 – 52 days the tadpoles will begin to undergo metamorphosis. Pretty amazing, huh?
What’s your favourite animal mum? Let me know in the comments below!