Many animals aren’t exactly candidates for parent of the year, often leaving their babies to fend for themselves shortly after birth — or worse.
But humans aren’t the only species to provide their young with a safe upbringing. Plenty of animals care for their offspring through childhood, using a range of strategies: playing teacher, exploiting their environment, and even risking their very lives.
Chimps – Mother chimpanzees teach social skills
Offspring: Usually one
Childhood: Eight years
Parenting strategy: Patience
Chimps live in groups with complex social structures, so they depend on their mothers to teach them the skills they’ll need to survive. Mother chimps curtail violent behavior in their offspring with sounds and gestures and also teach them how to procure food.
With a relatively long childhood as compared to other animals, there’s plenty of time to learn everything. And true to the social nature of the species, chimp grandparents, siblings and alpha males may also assist the mother in raising the young.
Humpback Whales – Baby humpback whales nurse around the clock
Childhood: One year
Parenting strategy: Extreme attention
A humpback whale calf rarely strays far from its mother-shesa full-time milk dispensary for the hungry infant, which feeds almost constantly for the first month of its life. Feeding in the briny deep IS not easy, however. The milk must be injected directly into the calts mouth so that it doesn’t dissolve in the seawater. The milk’s high fat content-almost 50 percent- also helps, by giving it a thick, yogurtlike consistency. Humpback whale calves consume anywhere from 105 to 130 gallons of mother’s milk every day. Baby quickly fattens up; by U months of age, it has quintupled its weight and grown to 26 feet m length, and it is ready to follow Its mother on her long spring migration from tropical waters to polar feeding grounds.
Mute swans – Aggressive defender
Offspring: Five to nine
Childhood: Four months
Parenting strategy: Protection
Mute swans vigorously protect their offspring, ensconcing the downy cygnets safely on their mothers’ backs and readily attacking potential threats — including bicycles and canoes.
Giraffes – Giraffes have nurseries
Childhood: Three years
Parenting strategy: Social kindergartens
Giraffes remain standing during labor, which means that a baby first experience is a 6-foot fall to the ground. But this rough introduction does not faze the infant, which is up and running around within a few hours. This speedy adjustment is necessary for survival, as newborns are easy picking for predators such as lions.
But juvenile giraffes also enjoy several advantages in their early days. Their mothers keep an excellent lookout over the savanna, and their hard hooves can deliver a fearsome kick to lions. And when a mother giraffe needs to forage, she can leave her baby with a group of others in a sort of nursery, called a calving pool, that is watched over by a single vigilant female.
Clownfish – Death-defying tenant
Childhood: Six to 10 days
Parenting strategy: Toxic home
Clownfish live among the tentacles of sea anemones, to whose venom they are immune, and lay their eggs nearby, effectively using their deadly home to keep predators at bay.