Want to flatter the father of your children with an arcane reference to empirical entomology? (And who doesn’t?) Tell him he parents like an older male burying beetle.
According to a new study by researchers at the University of Exeter in the U.K., older burying beetles are better fathers than their younger peers. They spend more time with their newborn offspring, including feeding them regurgitated food, which we can assume they started doing long before Alicia Silverstone made it cool.
To boot, even if paternity is in doubt, they’re still more likely to care for their mate’s baby beetles than their younger counterparts…which is good news for the offspring and even better news for promiscuous female beetles.
Side note: How exactly do you make a beetle doubt an offspring’s paternity? Fill his mating chamber with the smells of competing males. Wafting insect stench: It’s the lipstick-on-the-collar of the critter world.
So can we actually compare male burying beetles to older human fathers? Despite the medical drawbacks of older parenthood, moms like Melissa Lawrence, the CEO and co-founder of the how-to video website CloudMom.com, trumpet the benefits of having kids with older dads. Lawrence’s husband is in his 50s and the couple has five young children.
“When my husband and I had our first child he was in his late 40² and was at the ready! His career was established, and although he works really hard, he is 100 percent there for his kids when he’s home…” Lawrence wrote in a CloudMom blog post late last year. “He’s completely committed, settled, and knows who he is, and he adores and appreciates his kids too.”
Here’s where the human-beetle comparison might be tougher to justify: University of Exeter researchers linked the beetle’s willingness to care for offspring with their chances of successful reproduction later. It seems the young ones don’t feel the need to do right by their spawn because they know they can keep on conceiving — it’s the “If I screw up this one, I can just have more” philosophy to parenting.
Not so with older male beetles…but I doubt that any older dad (or the wife of any dad) would say that he’s a better father to the kids he has because he’s afraid he won’t be able to sneak any more buns in his mate’s oven.
Lawrence chalks it up to maturity instead.
“I think older dads can be especially devoted because they appreciate how truly special it is to have kids … but with humans, I don’t think this comes as much from a fear that their reproductive capacities are waning as much as it does from emotional maturity,” she told me.
Still, in a statement released by the University of Exeter, researchers said their findings may be applicable to other species where fathers play a role in caring for their young, suggesting that females “should prefer to mate with older males as they work harder and care less about infidelity.”
What do you think? Do older dads make better, more devoted parents?
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Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.