Sunday, June 16, 2013

Craziest Animal Fathers

Today, in honor of Father's Day, we are going to be looking at a few animal fathers who go above and beyond to help raise their children, or do so in a surprising way!  Let's start with one of the most famous animal fathers: the seahorse!

One myth regarding the seahorse is that the male seahorse actually becomes pregnant with the babies.  This is not really true: it's more accurate to say that the male seahorse is the surrogate mother for his own babies!  The female seahorse deposits her eggs, up to 2,000 of them, into the male's special pouch, where he hangs onto them during the 10 - 25 day pregnancy.

The African namaqua sandgrouse father actually has its babies drink water from its belly!  Let me explain a little further: the belly feathers of the sandgrouse have evolved to retain water.  When its chicks are thirsty, the poppa sandgrouse finds a watering hole and dunks his belly into it.  Then, he goes back to his nest, summons his children, and lets them drink from his belly!

Marmoset fathers also are quite involved when it comes to their children, mostly due to the fact that the babies require so much energy from their mother.  Before their birth, the babies may compose up to around 25% of their mother's body weight.  To compare this to a human female, if the pregnant female weighed around 120 pounds, then the newborn baby would weigh around 30 pounds!!

Just like the heavy energy investment required of the marmoset babies, so too do some birds invest a great deal of energy into their offspring.  One of these is the large flightless bird called the rhea, related to the ostrich and the emu.  Native to South America, the male rhea will make the nest, incubate the eggs (sometimes up to fifty of them), and will chase away any animals that approach the nest (including the females!)

Next, we have a fascinating fish called the arowana.  The arowana, like many other animals, is a mouthbrooder, which means that one of the parents incubates the babies in its mouth!  In the case of the arowana, the female layes the eggs on the ground, and the male scoops them up, where he incubates them for 4 - 6 weeks!

Our second to last animal father is the barking frog.  Native to Texas, the male barking frog will guard his offspring, urinating on them periodically to keep them wet.  Male frogs often invest a great deal of energy into their young, with some of them practicing mouth brooding like the arowana, and others carrying the babies around on their backs!

Finally, our last animal father is quite possibly the most famous of all time (other than humans), whose incredible feat of strength is known by millions of people world-wide: the emperor penguin!  For around four months, the male emperor penguin will sit on its egg in the coldest and most inhospitable place on the planet: the frigid desert of the Antarctic.  During this four month period, the males huddle together, slowly running through their limited food supply: they don't eat that entire time!  I have often wondered how such a complicated behavior could have evolved!

Happy Father's Day to my father, Mark Neher!  You have had to put up with a lot over the years!  Thanks again!

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