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Animal Dads: Eight Examples of Good Fatherhood from the Animal World

Last week we visited a farm, which left me reflecting on animal parenting behavior.

Some animals develop on their own, like chickens, who don’t even need a mother hen to care for them. They just get up and go! And they huddle together in big fluffy clumps, keeping one another company and, I guess, learning from one another. Honestly, the pecking order is a disturbing thing to witness the way the scrawniest chicks have no feathers on their rumps, because the bigger ones peck them off. It’s cruel, and, I think, a sign of the chicken’s low intelligence. No wonder they don’t need parents, they run entirely on instinct, or at least the breed I saw. As the German director Werner Herzog said, “Look into the eyes of a chicken and you will see real stupidity. It is a kind of bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stupidity. They are the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish creatures in the world.”

Baby lambs and pigs, on the other hand, had greater civility in their community. The little lambs huddled together around their mothers, cute and defenseless, watched over by a great big guard dog. They were docile and gentle with one another. While the pigs were rammy and playful, like energetic toddlers testing the limits of their pens. They too were mom-centric, and in fact the boar was kept apart from them, in part out of fear he might eat them. (Though there was a horror story of a mommy pig who bit one of her babies head off, in front of a tour group no less! Nature is strange.)

Our trip made me wonder how involved are fathers out there in the animal kingdom?

Humans are not the only species who value active, engaged, and present dads. On the whole, the females of the species care for the young, but there are notable exceptions to this in all forms of wildlife. Click below to find eight great examples of male animals who take an active role in caring or raising their offspring.

  • Click to find out what species are the best dads in the animal kingdom! 1 of 9
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  • Oreophryne Frogs 2 of 9
    01 Frog

    Microhylidae frogs are — as the name implies — small, and varieties can be found all over the world. The Oreophryne microhylidae of Papua New Guinea develop right from egg to frog with no tadpole stage, which means they don't need to be in or near water to hatch. So, to keep them safe, dad Oreophrynes hike the eggs of their mates up trees, deposit them on leaves, and then use their super-sticky toe-pads to cling to the bottom of said leaves, guarding the eggs from predators, like insects. And you thought running out to pick up ice cream for your pregnant wife was going the extra distance!

    Photo via twentytwowords.com

  • Swans 3 of 9
    02 Swans

    Male swans — known as cobs— mate for life. They will migrate with their mate, and usually return to the same territory year after year, even, sadly, after their mate has died. Males help their mates build the nest for their young, and will take turns sitting on the eggs so that the female can feed. Once the eggs hatch, they stick around to help raise the baby swans, which are called cygnets.

    Photo via Wikipedia Commons

  • Emperor Penguins 4 of 9
    03 Emperor Penguins

    Though they don't breed for life, Antarctic Emperor Penguins are serially monogamous — once they pair up, they'll stick together for the year, during which time the female penguin will lay one egg. Producing and laying the egg takes so much out of her that she'll hand it off to the male and then swim away for a couple of months to replenish herself in the ocean. For about 64 days the male Emperor waddles about with the egg balanced on his feet, keeping it warm in a brood pouch, and not taking any breaks to eat. When temperatures get really cold, the guys'll huddle together to keep the little eggs warm. If the egg hatches before the mom arrives back on the scene, the father Emperor Penguin can even feed it, hocking up a milky piece of curd from his throat. Later, when mom and dad are both fed and rested, they'll take turns caring for the young. Talk about gender equality!

    Photo via Wikipedia Commons

  • Ariid Catfish 5 of 9
    04 catfish

    Mouthbrooder fish carry their eggs in their mouth until they hatch, so as to keep them protected. In most species, this is the job of the female, but for ariid catfish (also called sea catfish) the father takes on this responsibility. He'll carry around a clutch of half a dozen or so golf-ball sized eggs in his mouth for about two months, during which time he won't eat anything.

    Illustration via Wikipedia

  • Marmosets 6 of 9
    05 Marmoset

    Marmosets are cute little monkeys that live in South America — though for all I know in real-life they may be as nasty as the ones in the movie Rio. But in pictures they're adorable, and they have a very human-like attitude toward raising kids. Everyone pitches in, males and females alike. Even friendly non-family members help out. The adults share food with the kids, and even tolerate some misbehaving like petty stealing. Like their mates, the males even gain a bit of weight before the birth of offspring, so that they have extra energy to pitch in and help care for the little one. And when the baby is newborn, the male cleans it, and then carries it to the mother only when she's ready to nurse.

    Photo via Wikipedia Commons

  • Rheas 7 of 9
    06 Rhea

    Rheas are large flightless birds that live in South America. Unlike many bird species, the females are free agents. They join up with a male and become part of his harem, but after laying eggs in a nest that he's prepared — kind of like a burrow in the ground — the females are out of there, off to find a new mate. The male, meanwhile, sits on the pile for about six weeks, which could contain as many as sixty eggs! He'll raise them, and defend them aggressively against other Rheas, predators, or humans. He may even place some eggs out of the nest, sacrificing a few so that a predator leaves the majority of the eggs alone.

    Photo via Wikipedia Commons

  • Wolves 8 of 9
    07 Wolf

    Like swans, wolves mate for life. When a female wolf whelps a litter, her mate stands guard outside the den. He'll bring food to the mother and pups, and they'll remain together as a family as the young wolves grow. The father will take an active role in teaching the pups how to hunt and survive, but, like human dads, he'll play with them too.

    Photo via Wikipedia Commons

  • Seahorses 9 of 9
    08 Seahorse

    This list wouldn't be complete without the most famous dads of the animal world, the seahorse. Male seahorses have a brood pouch in which the female deposits her eggs. He'll carry up to 1,500 eggs for as long as 45 days until they hatch, and his mate will visit for a few minutes every morning just to check in on him. Sweet, right? The male will birth the young and be ready for a new batch of eggs almost immediately after. The poor fry, though, are left on their own, to sink or swim as it were. Guess their parent's sweetness only goes so far.

    Photo via Wikipedia Commons

    The author is indebted to NOVA Online, Fact Monster, and Wikipedia for the information in this article.

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