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8 Animals That Really Take This Parenting Thing Too Far

Dec 22, 2016

You’re a good parent. You’re kind and thoughtful, you love your family unconditionally, and you do your best to give your kid(s) the tools they need to thrive in this world. You’re selfless and you would do anything for them… but would you readily eat your own arms for them?

Parenting can be a hard job, but next time you think you have it rough, remember some of the mommies and daddies of the animal kingdom have it rougher. Let’s compare and contrast.


YOU: Carried your squirmy five-year-old on your shoulders for 10 minutes so she didn’t have to walk home one time.

A family of American alligators.

ALLIGATOR: Yes, transporting the kiddo on your shoulders can be annoying, but it could be worse — the American alligator carefully carries its squirming children on its head, along its snout, or in its mouth. Full-grown gators are big, but they start out small (and adorable). Being carefully brought from nest to water inside momma’s mouth protects them from predators like birds and skunks. Females stay with their babies for about a year, rushing to their side when they cry (yes, you read that right).


YOU: Spent several weekends teaching your little one how to ride a bike.

A parent meerkat with two pups. Photo by Holly Occhipinti via Flickr, licensed under CC by 2.0
MEERKAT: That’s pretty impressive, but you know what’s even more impressive? Teaching your little one the finer points of killing scorpions like meerkats do.
Living in large families, these little mongoose dine on scorpions with enough sting to take out a person. This means their hunting style requires particular finesse. To teach the young’uns the best way bite the bug, parents will bring them first dead scorpions, and then tailless live ones—they gradually increase the difficulty level before showing them what to do will fully intact prey. It’s the equivalent of moving from a tricycle to a bike with training wheels to a BMX under an adult’s watchful eyes.


YOU: Spent the whole evening in a chilly arena, freezing during your daughter’s hockey practice. Man, it was cold.

A group of emperor penguins with penguin chicks. EMPEROR PENGUIN: A quick Google search suggests most hockey arenas are about 12 C, which is a bit chilly. A quick Google search also suggests nights in Antarctica approach –40 C, which is quite a bit colder. For two months, male Emperor penguins protect their mate’s single egg, incubating it under their bodies. While the mother is travelling up to 80 km away to catch fish for her family, the dad-to-be stands sentry. By the time baby is born, the male penguin weighs half as much as he did when the egg-protecting started. Also, the penguins don’t have coffee to keep them going.


YOU: Diligently taught your preschooler how to sneeze into his elbow to avoid the spread of disease.

A baby koala on the back of its mother. KOALA: It’s important you’re teaching your wee one to stay healthy. Koala moms do that too, only their method involves encouraging their offspring to eat special maternal poop so they build an immunity to otherwise-toxic eucalyptus leaves.
Containing special bacteria allowing the little ones to properly digest their main food source, this ‘pap’ is so important orphan joeys in captivity must be fed a supply harvested from other koalas. This article explains more, but we don’t recommend reading it if you (a) are about to eat, (b) just ate, or (c) intend to ever eat anything again.


YOU: Got, like, no sleep last night taking care of your baby.

A killer whale and a young killer whale breaching in a beautiful ocean setting. Photo by Mike Charest via Flickr, licensed under CC by 2.0
ORCA: Getting by on little shut-eye is pretty much the worst. But the actual worst? Not sleeping at all for the first month of your baby’s life, which is what orcas go through when killer whale calves are born. A team from the University of California examined sleeping patterns of captive orcas, and found mom and baby swam continuously (and avoided obstacles), kept their eyes open, and repeatedly surfaced to breathe 24-7 for that first month. Going sleepless helps the calves avoid predators and lets them stay active enough to maintain their body temperature until they develop enough blubber to survive in cold water.


YOU: There was one slice of pizza left and your son said he was really hungry. You wanted that pizza, but you gave it to him. #hero

A worm-like creature known as a caecilian.

Photo by Brian Gratwicke via Flickr, licensed under CC by 2.0

CAECILIAN: Giving up your food to ensure your child gets the right nutrients is admirable, but some species of caecilian (a burrowing amphibian that looks like an earthworm Pokémon) have you beat. That’s because she lets her kids bite off her fatty, nutrient-rich (and presumably delicious) flesh with their tiny, modified teeth. She has to regrow her skin every three days to keep feeding them, whereas you could just get a bigger pizza next time.
Amphibian skin is a weird, wonderful thing. The caecilian’s better-known cousins, the frogs, include species that use their own body for parenting purposes pretty far from what you might expect. Take a deep breath before watching this video of a SURINAM TOAD mom welcoming her brood into the world.


YOU: Canceled boys night to stay home with your kid who has a slight cold. You gotta do what you gotta do.

A giant pacific octopus.

Photo by pr2is via 123RF PACIFIC GIANT OCTOPUS: Parenting is about being selfless, but many species of octopus take this to the extreme. The really cool mollusc lays tens of thousands of eggs and, in the case of Pacific giant octopus, then spends more than seven months protecting them from predators and blowing gentle currents of water to offer oxygen. During this time, she won’t leave the eggs, even to find food for herself. Some species will eat their own eight arms to stay alive long enough to watch the young emerge before inevitable death. This is probably not a good approach for human parents to take.

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no-ish hair and edits technical articles. He and his wife are the proud parents of a six-year-old girl who is already pretty adept with a tablet, and a two-year-old boy who probably will be sooner than appropriate. He received his MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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