The 8 Best Mothers In The Animal Kingdom

Last Father’s Day, we brought you a list of the world’s greatest animal dads, but now it’s time to thank the ladies for all their hard work. These matronly critters show just how much a mother’s love can mean to the success of her little one.


After a 22 month long pregnancy followed by delivery of the world’s largest babies (around 250 pounds), elephants deserve to be on this list even if they immediately abandoned their babes. But they don’t just say “thanks for all the stretch marks,” and get on their merry way, elephant mothers continue raising their babies. Baby elephants are born blind and completely dependant on their mother and the rest of the herd. While the baby is growing, they are fortunate enough to have a great support system consisting of multiple full-time babysitters, called “allmothers.” While the allmothers take care of the precious little one, the mother will work to eat as much as she can so she can make the most possible milk for her bundle of joy. Image by Googie man [Wikipedia]


We don’t tend to think of cold-blooded animals as the most caring parents, but alligators certainly break that mold. The female alligator creates nests of rotting organic matter that not only self-incubates, but also determine the sex of the babies. Nests that are constructed with leaves are warmer than those made with wet marsh, and thus, produce more males than cooler nests. Once mama gator has planned the sex of her litter, she will guard her nest from threats, including other alligators, who love to munch on baby gator nests. When the eggs hatch, she will load them into her mouth and then carry them into the water where she will continue to care for them for the following year, assuming they decide to stay near home. Image via Catholic 85 [Wikipedia]


Female orangutans have to wait eight years between births (the longest interbirth time of any great ape), so they make sure their time with each baby counts. Infant orangutans are completely dependent on their mother for their first two years of life. In fact, during the first four months of a baby’s life, it will never break physical contact with its mother, clinging to her belly the whole time. Each night, the mother will make a nest and she and her baby will cuddle in bed during the duration of its infancy. Even as they mature, they continue to stick close to mother and even breastfeed until they are five years old –making them the species with the longest dependence period. The girls stay with their mothers longer than the boys, sticking around to learn necessary baby rearing skills. Image via JohnBurke [Flickr]

Greater Hornbills

Greater hornbills have the distinction of being the only animals that made it on both of our best animal parents lists. And there’s a good reason for that. When the hornbills lay eggs, they find a hollowed-out tree and then the mother seals herself inside with the eggs while the father returns every day to bring food for her. While he deserves recognition for caring for his wife and kids during the incubation period, mommy certainly deserves some respect for sitting inside a dark nest all day, surviving only on what her mate brings her to eat. Once the chicks hatch, the parents continue to split their duties, alternating who feeds the babies that have been left inside the sealed up nest. Image via Goldy fk [Flickr]


Female octopuses have good odds when it comes to reproductive success. After all, each mother lays anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 eggs, depending on her species. She then takes the time to carefully place the eggs in an elaborate grouping, again based on her species. Once laid, she’ll spend the next month or two caring for the eggs by protecting them against predators and even pushing water currents in their direction so the eggs get enough oxygen. During this entire period, she will not hunt and will often end up ingesting her own arms for sustenance. When the eggs start hatching, she will leave her lair too weak to defend herself from predators. As a result, most octopus mothers die shortly after their babies hatch. Image via Foxtongue [Flickr]


Most insects, particularly those that tend to roll solo, aren’t exactly the most caring parents. But the female earwig is a very notable exception. The mother will provide her eggs with warmth, clean them to protect them from fungus and protect them from predators. During this period, the only thing she’ll eat is any eggs that have gone bad and will not hatch. When the eggs hatch, she will help the babies break through their shells and continue to protect the little ones for another few months until they have molted a second time. She will even feed her babies regurgitated food and if anything happens to her during this time, the babies will then eat their mother for sustenance. Image via Nabakov [Wikipedia]

Polar Bears

After getting pregnant, female polar bears need to eat enough to nearly double their weight, as they will soon enter a long fasting period where they will still need to provide nourishment to their cubs. As temperatures start to fall during autumn, mothers-to-be will dig a maternity den that comprises of a narrow entrance tunnel and one to three chambers. Once secluded in her den, the mother will enter a hibernation-like state –unlike hibernating animals, her body temperature does not decrease and she will not sleep continuously. The mother bear has one of the easiest birthing sessions around, often sleeping through the experience. When the cubs are born, they will be blind and weigh less than two pounds. While the mother will continue to refrain from eating while in the den area, the cubs will nurse, growing up to 30 pounds by the time they leave the den in spring. For the first couple of weeks outside the den, the mother will nibble on vegetation while the cubs adapt to walking and playing in the outdoors. Finally, they will leave the den area and head toward the sea ice where the mother can start catching seals after a fast of up to eight months. Over the next few years, the mother will teach her babies how to hunt while protecting them from predators, including male polar bears. Interestingly, while male bears will eat the cubs, female bears have been known to adopt abandoned cubs on occasion.

Wolf Spiders

Like earwigs, wolf spiders are notable for being one of the more caring mothers of the arachnid world. While most spiders hang their eggs in a web and then go on their merry way, wolf spiders actually strap their egg sac to their bodies and carry it wherever they go. Then, once the eggs hatch, mommy wolf spider continues to take care of her little ones, letting them ride on her back until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Image via Ugly Overload As humans, we are fortunate to have some of the best mothers in the animal kingdom –women who are willing to take care of a whining, tantrum-throwing and manipulative (although occasionally really cute) child for at least eighteen years. Let’s take some time to thank all of our Neatorama mothers, Miss C, Stacy, The Nag, and Tiffany –and of course, all of you readers who also happen to be mothers. Happy Mother’s Day! Sources: Wikipedia #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8

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