Five animals that look after their babies in ingenious ways

Bringing up kids can be a tough business – but in the wild it’s often a matter of life and death...

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It’s no easy feat, bringing up children. As ITV’s Animal Mums shows the amazing and surprising ways mums cope in the animal world, here are five other super parents…

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Sea otters

They have the thickest fur of any mammals — up to one million hairs per square inch of body. But this evolved protection against the cold brings with it life-threatening risks for the pups. They can’t dive with their mum until they’ve had their first moult at 45 days, yet mum has to feed almost continuously to produce the high-calorie milk her offspring needs. So she has devised an ingenious way of preventing her pups from drowning while she hunts — she fluffs up their fur to trap air inside causing them to bob buoyantly on the surface of the water instead of sinking to the bottom.


Flamingos

Flamingo chicks benefit from a remarkable piece of evolved parenting. Because they’re not born with the curved water-filtering beaks of their parents — the chicks’ beaks are short and straight — both mum and dad produce milk to feed them with. The pink-coloured milk is made in their throats and passed to the chick via the parents’ mouth. It is stimulated by prolactin, the same hormone that’s active in the human production of milk. The feeding, which continues until the chick’s bill has developed, can drain the parents of their own colour, which comes from a pink pigment found in their diet of shrimps, molluscs and algae. 


Male California mouse

Most fathers choose to be active participants in the raising of their offspring. But the male California mouse has no say in the matter; he is duped into performing his paternal duties with a clever bit of hormonal hoodwinking. Around the time of birth— California mice can produce six litters of babies a year — mum produces a chemical in her urine that encourages him to be a good dad. He licks the babies to get their circulation going and keeps his brood fed and cleaned. Scientists have observed that if mum and her chemical cosh go missing, the father typically stops caring for the babies. 


North Pacific giant octopus

The North Pacific giant octopus makes the ultimate sacrifice for motherhood — she gives her own life for her young. Weighing up to 70kg and around four metres long, she lays as many as 100,000 eggs, which hang from the ceiling of her birthing den. Over six long months she tends the eggs, never once leaving them to feed. With her suckers she cleans them of algae and parasites and squirts water at them to keep them oxygenated. As soon as the eggs hatch, the weakened mum dies — the place of birth becomes her place of death. 


Slow loris

For all her wide-eyed cuteness, the slow loris mum has developed a deadly way of protecting her young — she coats the infant in a noxious cocktail of body fluids. The small mammal licks venom-producing glands in her elbow and then covers her baby with toxic saliva before going off to feed. The venom, which is typically secreted by the adult loris to protect against parasites, deters any predator from snatching her young. This is thought to happen for the first three or four weeks of its life. Though mainly deployed as a deterrent, the loris will attack using the venom — it’s powerful enough to kill a human. 

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Animal Mums is on Sunday 23rd August on ITV at 7.00pm 

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