The 5 Worst Fathers In the Animal Kingdom

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These dads won't be getting any Father's Day cards this Sunday.

1. Lions

Image courtesy of James Hopkirk's Flickr stream

You may already know that a male lion that recently became head of his pride will usually kill all the cubs sired by the previous leader. But while that makes lions terrible step-dads, it doesn’t make them terrible fathers. What makes lions bad dads is a combination of greed and laziness. Papa lions spend most of their day lying in the shade, waiting for one of their wives to bring home dinner. The female does all of the hunting and pretty much all of the parenting. The male’s job is to protect his territory from other prides and scavengers like hyenas.

Once the mama brings home her kill, the male lion is always the first one to eat and he often leaves only scraps for the rest of the pride –including any of his recently weaned children. If it’s a rough hunting season, an alpha lion will let his wives and children starve first.

2. Grizzly Bears

Image courtesy of BC Gov Photos' Flickr stream

It’s rare for any animal-kingdom father to eat his own young when he isn’t desperate for food, but the male grizzly bear will do just that. These baby-daddies are extremely protective of their territories, which can range all the way up to 1,500 miles, and are opportunistic hunters, willing to kill and eat anything that happens to enter their home turf –even their own cubs.

That means mama bears have to be extra good parents, not only making sure to feed their cubs and teach them how to survive on their own, but also ensuring their youngsters never happen to stray into their daddy’s bachelor pad.

3. Bass

Image courtesy of Velo Steve's Flickr stream

There are a lot of bad fathers under the sea. In fact, even those that are highly protective of their spawn, like male bass, are still prone to eating their own children. In the case of the bass, this occurs after most of the newborns have swum away and a few stragglers remain. Suddenly daddy stops protecting his kids from predators and becomes a predator himself, swallowing up all of the stragglers as a reward to himself for helping the strong ones stay alive.

4. Sand Goby

Image courtesy of Preview_H's Flickr stream

Similarly, the male sand goby is relentless about guarding his eggs from predators, but even if he has plenty of extra food available, he will still eat about a third of his brood. Research into how he decides which eggs to keep and which to eat reveals that size matters:  male gobies tend to eat the largest eggs. In many species, large babies mean a higher chance for survival –and thus, they are the most protected members of the family—but the sand goby knows that the largest eggs take longest to hatch. Pops snacks on the eggs that would take the longest to develop so he can get out of there and back to mating as soon as possible.

5. Assassin Bug

Image courtesy of Malcom NQ's Flickr stream

With a name like “assassin bug” you’d hardly expect this insect to be sweet, but filial cannibalism is still pretty gruesome. Daddy assassin bug is tasked with protecting his eggs until they hatch. His tactic mostly involves eating the eggs on the outside edges of the brood, which are otherwise most likely to fall victim to parasitic wasps. This defensive strategy is so hardwired that the bugs do it even in laboratory settings completely devoid of any potential parasites. Scientists believe this is because eating the eggs doesn’t only protect the insects against possible parasites, but also provides the male assassin bug with ample nutrients when his guard duty leaves him unable to forage. Interestingly, assassin bugs do have a bit of a soft spot—the males are some of the only insects that are willing to adopt broods from other fathers. (They don’t eat any extra eggs when their kids are adopted.)

A Few Good Dads

Not all the fathers in nature are so cold-hearted; in fact, some are downright amazing dads.

Image courtesy of eustatic's Flickr stream

You probably already know that seahorse daddies handle pregnancy duties, but they’re not the only ones: the hardhead catfish carries up to 48 eggs in his mouth until they hatch. How does he eat without swallowing down a few of his babies-to-be? He simply starves for two months, until his youngsters all hatch and swim away. Now that’s dedication.

Similarly, the giant African bullfrog carries up to 6,000 eggs in his vocal sacs for six weeks. When they’re ready to be born, he throws up, releasing thousands of baby tadpoles into the world.

Image courtesy of NoiseCollusion's Flickr stream

Every child loves piggyback rides – especially the giant waterbug. That’s because the mom cements up to 150 eggs to dad’s back and papa gives all of his youngsters a piggyback until they are born - a full month later.

The daddy rhea not only sits on his eggs for two months, forgoing food for all but two weeks of the incubation period, but then raises and guards the chicks for the first two years of their lives.
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Happy Father’s Day to all you Flossers! And remember: even if you don't get along, at least your dad never tried to eat you.

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June 14, 2012 - 1:02pm
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