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8 animal fathers who take care of their eggs

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8 animal fathers who take care of their eggs

Among all beings who invest in child care, it is far more common for mothers, not fathers, to bear the responsibility of parenting. But as is often the case in the animal kingdom, there are exceptions. These animal fathers, all representing egg-laying species, help by hatching, protecting, or otherwise guiding their offspring out of their shells and into the wide open world.

Giant water bugs

A water bug with cylindrical eggs on its back. Jim Lievert/Missouri Department of Conservation

Giant water bugs, also known as ‘toe biters’ thanks to their painful bites, are predatory insects that can grow up to four inches in length. Although they look terrifying – another nickname is ‘alligator tick’ – males prove to be protective fathers. After mating, a female water bug lays 100 or more eggs in a clump on the male’s back. He will guard this about a week or two until the nymphs, which resemble mini-adults, hatch.

Mouth-brooding fish

For some fish, the safest place for freshly laid eggs is in daddy’s mouth. This behavior, called mouth broodinghas evolved independently over millennia at least seven fish families. Depending on the species, the egg keeper may be mother or father, who holds the fertilized eggs safely behind their jaws. But the strategy can also be exploited. The cuckoo catfish, found in Lake Tanganyika, the world’s longest freshwater lake in sub-Saharan Africa, sneaks its own eggs into the clutches of cichlids. When the cichlid parent collects all the eggs in its mouth, it may unintentionally also protect catfish children.

Smooth guardian frogs

During the mating season, male smooth guardian frogs call to females on the leafy floors of Bornean forests, which lay 15 to 20 eggs before running away. The males watch over the brood for about two weeks. When the eggs hatch, “the tadpoles crawl on the male’s back,” said ecologist Johana Goyes Vallejos. They ride Dad until he can choose a safe place: “The male takes them through the forest to find small pools where they can complete their development.”

Greater rheas

greater rhea gray bird
A Greater Rhea father will chase you away from his nest. Image: Deposit

When it comes to South America’s largest birds, incubation is for the boys. Males can mate with up to twelve females per breeding season and build a nest for all the eggs, regardless of whether they come from different mothers. The flightless kind nests can contain up to 60 eggs and researchers have observed males tending a clutch of eggs for up to six weeks. The fathers then care for the newborn chicks for another six months, during which time they protect their young from predators and even female rheas that may threaten the chicks.

emperor penguins

Another father bird that hatches eggs are the emperor penguins of Antarctica. Males can keep one egg warm in their brood pouch for up to 67 days.a record among penguin species– while the females return to the seas to hunt for fish. The father stands on the ice day and night during the harsh winter months and does not eat during the egg’s incubation period.

Praying mantises

A praying mantis eats an arthropod.
Praying mantis jaws make quick work of a meal (including partners). Bruce Hallman/USFWS

In a dramatic final act, several male praying mantises become willing food for their partners. While that may seem like a tough task for Dad—he won’t be around to tend mantis eggs or watch his young grow up—being devoured could benefit the long-term survival of his insect offspring. Cannibalistic female praying mantis produce more eggs than praying mantises that do not eat their partners, a 2016 research paper concluded. The mothers also get enough amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, through snacks from their partners.

Bald eagles

If you’re a bald eagle, parental hormones can be a powerful calling: Mated pairs typically divide caring duties for their eggs. But Murphy, a captive male eagle at a bird sanctuary in Missouri, was so overwhelmed by these chemicals that he he built and defended a nest in front of a rock. When an orphaned eagle needed a parent, Murphy’s keepers traded the stone for the chick. After a week of careful introductions, Murphy became a surrogate father for the young bird, who will remain under the older eagle’s wing until a planned release this summer.