Archive for May 12th, 2012

This morning my young daughter said to me thoughtfully, “Wouldn’t it be nice if little animals know tomorrow is Mother’s Day?”
 “Why?” I asked her. This girl is always fascinated by animals.
“Then, they too, can celebrate Mother’s Day!” she replied.
 Yes, she was right. Each year we never failed to celebrate Mother’s Day with cards, flowers, chocolates and sumptous dinners with our moms.
But what about animals? They too, have great moms, this I am sure.
So to make my daughter happy, I am going to feature some of the greatest animal moms on this planet.
Animal Moms: Elephants

After an elephant mom endures a 22-month pregnancy, she gives birth to the largest newborn of the jungle, a 250-pound calf that’s almost entirely dependent on her for survival. Because her baby is born nearly blind, the elephant mother helps her calf to use its trunk to discover the outside world—and its mother’s unconditional love.

Animal Moms: Polar Bears

A female polar bear gets pregnant in the spring and promptly gains over 400 pounds, often doubling her original weight. She’ll need all that extra fat. When the hunting season ends in the fall, she slows way down, entering a hibernation-like state inside a maternity den. She stays half-asleep through the birth of her cubs, and by the time she emerges from her den she’ll have fasted for as long as eight months.

Animal Moms: Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins, like other mammals, nurse their young. Because nursing can be a little tricky under water, a mother may help her calf suckle by ejecting milk from her mammary glands. The calf nurses for about a year and a half, but even after weaning a young dolphin knows it has a good thing going and stays close to its mother for several years.

Animal Moms: Cheetahs
A cheetah mom typically gives birth to a litter of three to five cubs and raises the cubs on her own. She spends the first year and a half of their lives focused almost entirely on teaching her cubs how to hunt and avoid predators. When the cubs have become sufficiently independent, she gives them a little tough love by abandoning them so they’ll learn to survive on their own.
Animal Moms: Alligators
The alligator mom is smarter than she may let on. Instead of being stuck sitting on her eggs to keep them warm, she puts the eggs in a mound of rotting vegetation that produces heat as it decomposes. Eggs kept at 86 degrees (Fahrenheit) or lower produce females; those 93 degrees or higher will be males. Mom’s more hands-on after the eggs hatch; for about a year, she’ll protect them from predators (like other alligators).
Animal Moms: Orangutans
The orangutan mother may be the animal kingdom’s ultimate advocate for “attachment parenting.” She carries her newborn constantly, never breaking contact for about the first four months of her baby’s life. She won’t wean her baby until about age four, and then may allow the baby to continue nursing during times of stress for another three years or so. Orangutans stay with their mothers for about eight years, longer than any other animal besides humans.
Animal Moms: Weddell Seals
Weddell seal moms may have to endure the bitter cold of their home near the South Pole, but at least parenting poses relatively few complications for them. For example, it takes just one to four minutes for a female Weddell seal to give birth. She’ll nurse her pup for only about six weeks—after that the pup can pretty much take care of itself. At least give a call on Mother’s Day, right?
Animal Moms: Meerkats
A meerkat mom is kept busy, having up to four litters a year, typically with two to four pups in each litter. The pups are born in underground burrows, where they stay for at least three weeks before emerging for the first time. The pups’ debut is quite an event—the whole meerkat clan comes to watch. As the pups mature, mom gets help from “babysitters” among the clan and even from the father.
Animal Moms: Hippopotamuses
Hippo moms typically give birth underwater and then immediately help the newborn calves to the surface for air. Baby hippos can suckle underwater or on land and will continue to nurse for about a year. Because they share their aquatic homes with predators like crocodiles, hippo moms need to protect their calves for the first year or so of their lives.
Animal Moms: Cougars
Cougars make devoted moms. For nearly their entire adult lives, female cougars are either pregnant or raising kittens. Every couple of years or so they give birth to litters of typically two or three kittens, who are born blind and completely dependent on their mother for survival. The kittens nurse for about three months, spending most of their time with their mom in dens for protection. Even after weaning and learning from mom how to hunt on their own, they tend to stick around with her until they’re about two years old—just in time for her next litter!
Animal Moms: Gorillas
Female gorillas start having babies at around 10 or 12 years of age. A gorilla mom carries her newborn in her arms while she forages for food and makes new nests each day. After about three months, the baby starts riding on its mom’s back by holding onto her fur. Mother and baby maintain a strong bond. Even after the baby learns to walk, at about nine months, it will continue riding on its mom’s back for another couple of years.
Animal Moms: Koalas
Even more than the rest of us, koalas would be completely helpless without their moms. Just 35 days after becoming pregnant, a female koala gives birth to a baby (known as a joey) that is only a quarter-inch long, hairless, blind and without ears. Immediately after birth it crawls down into its mother’s pouch, where it stays for six or seven months doing little other than nursing and growing ears, eyes and fur. It then starts to eat small bits of its mom’s “pap,” a kind of feces, which inoculates the joey’s digestive tract with the micro-organisms it’ll need to be able to digest otherwise poisonous eucalyptus leaves. And you thought you and your mom had a unique bond!
Animal Moms: Lions
It takes a pride to raise a lion cub. At least, lioness moms in a given pride may team up to help each other raise their cubs collectively. First a lioness will synchronize her reproductive cycle with the other females in the pride so they’ll all give birth at roughly the same time. Then, after a period of six or eight weeks in isolation with her cubs, the lioness and will rejoin the pride at about the same time that other new mothers and their cubs are also returning. A lioness mom will continue to nurse her own cubs, but she’ll also pitch in to nurse any other cubs in the pride. This communal rearing gives the cubs a greater chance of survival and protects the cubs from threats both inside and outside the pride.
Animal Moms: Giraffes
After a pregnancy of 13 to 15 months, a female giraffe will give birth while standing to a calf weighing around 150 pounds and standing 6 feet tall. Like a horse, a baby giraffe can stand and even run very soon after birth, but it’s still very vulnerable to predators. The mother will nurse her baby privately for its first month or so, but then the calf will join a “nursery group” of other calves, allowing its mother a little mom time to forage for food and water.
Animal Moms: Japanese Macaques
Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, form strong bonds between mothers and their babies that last a lifetime. They live in troops of 20 or 30 individuals, and a mother’s social rank will often determine her child’s place within the troop’s strict dominance hierarchy. A newborn macaque will cling to its mother’s stomach for the first month before learning to ride on her back. An infant macaque will sometimes cling to other adult females in the troop as well, but after about six months of age, it’ll cling only to its own mother. It’s only fitting.
By now, I am sure you will agree with Alexandra that we should also wish these mommies a “Happy Mother’s Day” on their kids behalf!

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