If you have child-rearing questions, Mother Nature’s got plenty of helpful tips… most of which won’t be showing up in traditional parenting manuals anytime soon. Instead of following in these creatures’ footsteps, just be happy your parents were humans.
1. Float Away From Your Kids
Formica selysi is a species of Old World ant famous for a particularly extreme survival strategy. When a colony is threatened by rising water, its members use their own bodies to make a raft… and put their chubby infants directly at the bottom for added buoyancy.
2. Find a Permanent Baby Sitter
Evolution’s nothing if not crafty. European cuckoos lay eggs that look virtually identical to those of other birds. A stealthy mother will invade a nearby nest, discard the owner’s actual eggs, and replace them with her own. As a result, the unaware birds often wind up raising hungry cuckoos instead of their real chicks.
3. Attack Predators Early
Few carnivores would dare take a swipe at an adult African elephant. However, lions have been known to take down defenseless juveniles from time to time. In an attempt to nip the problem in the bud, these massive herbivores actively stalk lion cubs. All’s fair in love, war, and parenting in the animal kingdom.
4. Let the Little Ones Eat You
There’s letting your mother feed you and then there’s literally feeding on your mother. The female Taita Mountain Caecillian—a species of limbless amphibian—has a unique way of helping her babies grow up big and strong: she allows them to nibble on chunks of her own skin with their razor-sharp teeth.
5. Give Up On Eating
The Pacific Giant Octopus takes motherhood very seriously. Moms have been known to go for a full six months without feeding while guarding their eggs in a specially selected den. After they finally hatch, the exhausted parent often dies from her ordeal.
6. Don’t Fret Over Sibling Rivalries
Brothers and sisters always fight, but if one of them happens to actually execute the other during a squabble, look on the bright side: at least the family food budget goes down a notch. Such is the attitude of the Black Eagle, which lays two eggs and generally permits the elder sibling to kill its younger nest-mate.
7. Mate With Every Male in Sight After You Get Pregnant
Because male bottlenose dolphins kill calves that aren’t theirs, resourceful mothers try their darnedest to keep the father’s identity a mystery. Mum can dramatically increase her child’s chance of survival by gathering as many mates as possible, since males are less likely to attack juveniles they suspect to be their own progeny.
8. Don’t Be Easily Grossed Out
In lieu of mammary glands, some fish, such as the Midas Cichlid, secrete a nutritious mucus for their young to ingest.
9. Your Own Vocal Sac Makes For an Excellent Nursery
The male Darwin’s Frog swallows its own tadpoles and lets them brood over a 50 to 70 day period in his vocal sac. When they turn into miniature froglets, he promptly regurgitates them.
10. Really Bleed For Your Young
Cockroaches get a bad rap. The younglings of one aquatic species scientifically known as Phlebonotus pallens are housed under their mother’s wings, where she permits them to suck her own blood until they’re old enough to fend for themselves. Talk about dedication!
11. Adopt via Baby-Snatching
Nursing patas monkeys have to be constantly on guard against childless females, who regularly kidnap temporarily unattended infants. Fortunately, these would-be parents usually don’t get very far, as the rightful moms are quick to retrieve their little tykes.
12. Eat Your Kids
When it comes to the Doederlein’s Cardinal fish, a dad is as faithful as his options. After mating, expecting fathers store the eggs in their mouths until they’re ready to hatch. However, should an attractive home-wrecker swim by, the male will actually cannibalize the whole bunch and try to mate with her.
13. Take Out Your Kids’ Competitors
Spotted hyenas are intensely political animals. Although it’s a rare occurrence, females have been known to slaughter the offspring of rival moms within their clan to ensure that a greater share of the group’s resources go to their cubs instead.
14. Lock Up Your Roost… And Trap Mama Inside
Think you don’t get out much? At least you’re not a female great hornbill. These Asian birds mate for life and take no chances when nesting season rolls around. After consummating their relationship, a pair will locate a spacious hole in a nearby tree. Once they do so, the mother is sealed inside, where she remains for four full months. Dad drops by several times a day to stuff food through a narrow slit for his spouse and their bouncing baby chicks.
15. Gobble Up the Complainers
Scottish researchers have found that burying beetle larvae who beg for food by poking their parents’ mouths too often run the risk of winding up as an entrée themselves, for moms are liable to eat their neediest offspring.