Mental Floss

Unsung Dads of the Animal Kingdom

Kara Kovalchik
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There are all types of different “fathers,” from biological dads to adoptive dads to foster dads to father figures. And there are also those unsung patriarchs of the animal kingdom...

Their Mane Man

Frazier was a 20-year-old circus lion from Mexico who had seen better days. Almost toothless, his tongue lolled out of his mouth and his skin hung on his emaciated frame. In 1970 he was donated to Lion Country Safari in California to live out his final days.

To everyone’s surprise, Frazier was “adopted” by a pride of lionesses that until that time had rejected the attention of all the parks’ male lions. Not only did these attentive females bring Frazier his food and prop him up to walk (one lioness on each side of him), they tended to his other lionly needs. Frazier sired 30 cubs during his first year at the reserve, and continued to be just as prolific the rest of his life. He passed away in 1972 due to natural causes (if you count “exhaustion” among those causes).

Proud of the Pregnancy “Pooch”

In the underwater world of the seahorse, it’s the male that gets to carry the eggs and birth the babies. And – get this - he actually competes with other males for the honor!

They stage contests of brute strength (well, as strong as an inch-long creature can be) and engage in exhibitions of tail-pulling and wrestling to impress the female. He also fills up his egg pouch with water and then expels it as forcefully as he can, trying to prove his fitness and worthiness.

When the male goes into labor, the contractions usually last 72 painful hours, during which time most of the color drains from him; he turns pasty white (and there is no starfish nearby coaching him to use his patterned breathing). After he finally expels the babies, this glutton for punishment shows off his pouch and begs the female to impregnate him once more.

Stay-at-Home Dad

The male doesn’t eat anything during this time, and he usually loses up to half of his body weight by the time the chick is hatched. When the chicks do emerge, they’re hungry, so dad has to regurgitate what little he has left in his stomach to feed them. The mothers return shortly after the chicks are hatched and take over the feeding and nurturing chores. The fathers have become quite maternal by this point and are at first reluctant to part with their charges, but they soon realize that they’re starving and they hand off junior to mom so they can go and gorge themselves.

Crazy (for Kits) Like a Fox

Don’t tell their wild canine counterparts (like the wolf and coyote), but the red fox gets just as gooey over children as your average human father.

Rhea Love

After mating, they get to work building a nest for the combined 10 to 60 eggs their various baby mamas will lay. Not every egg will hatch, because Papa sacrifices a few for use as decoys – he moves them outside of the nest to satisfy any predators and keep them from approaching closer. The male also incubates the eggs, and once they hatch they’re strictly Daddy’s chicks until they’re six months old. The male protects them very aggressively, calls them back when they wander too far afield, and lets them nestle under his feathers during nap time.

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