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SINGLE MOTHERS IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

21 January, 2009

In the first blog (HERE) in this series about animals, I discussed homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality as alternative methods of producing or raising offspring.

The last entry (HERE), ended with a discussion of polyandry — when females are in charge of mating.  The advantage of polyandry scientists say is that it ensures healthy offspring and the presence of several males to help with child-rearing. Bees offer a fine example of polyandry at work.

POLYANDRY

Bees can be solitary or social; among the solitary bees, two models are possible. Two sister bees, for instance, can divide the labor of a colony. Another model includes a Queen Bee, her daughters who are worker bees, caring for the queen or gathering nectar for the hive, and drones, males who mate with the queen or fertilize her eggs to produce more worker bees.  A variety of ways to lay and fertilize eggs exists depending on the type of bee, but the queen is always the center of the hive.

A new study suggests the domineering matriarch regulates her daughters’ brain activity to ensure her own survival. (HERE)

The queen has no need to defend her hive; the other bees will do that.  The bee’s stinger is its defense mechanism, but its ability to fly away is another means to avoid danger. The queen does not contribute to the care of young bees, the building of the hive, nor the gathering of honey.  Her job is to lay the eggs and ensure that the hive will survive.

Young bees lay hidden in the hive until they are able to fly and sting.

New studies have begun to discover that polyandry is far more common than once thought.  for instance, DNA studies about arctic foxes have reveal that polyandry exists in about a quarter of the litters studied.  (HERE)

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SINGLE ANIMAL MOTHERS

There are two types of single mothers in the animal kingdom:  both types are  equipped with the means to protect themselves and defend their offspring without the presence of a male counterpart.  One type is solitary, the other is social; but each is a female-only “family” group.


The black widow spider is a solitary creature except when she mates. Once she has mated she has no use for the male and she frequently kills and eats him. She is endowed with a deadly venom which kills any predator that offends her and needs no further assistance. The spider hides her egg sacs and they leave when they hatch.

This spider’s bite is much feared because its venom is reported to be 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake’s. In humans, bites produce muscle aches, nausea, and a paralysis of the diaphragm that can make breathing difficult; however, contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage-let alone death. But bites can be fatal—usually to small children, the elderly, or the infirm. Fortunately, fatalities are fairly rare; the spiders are nonaggressive and bite only in self-defense, such as when someone accidentally sits on them. (HERE)

The praying mantis is also a solitary creature. She will kill her mate after mating (and sometimes while mating with him). The praying mantis are…

formidable predators…well camouflaged on the plants among which they live…[and who] use their front legs to snare their prey with reflexes so quick that they are difficult to see with the naked eye. Their legs are further equipped with spikes for snaring prey and pinning it in place. (HERE)

Many mammals, such as female bears, live solitary lives except when mating or raising their young Although not so large as a male, the female bear is large and strong, with formidable claws and teeth.  She can run, swim, climb, and, of course, hibernate.  Cubs are born blind and helpless, but they learn to walk fairly early in their development.  Cubs must leave the mother around three years of age, leaving her free to mate again.  Males will sometimes try to kill bear cubs if they have a different father so that they can mate with the female.

A smaller single mom is the cheetah who is known for speed and powerful jaws.   The cheetah cubs remain with the mother for about a year.


Elephants are the most obvious example of a social single-mother group. They are blessed with both size and weapon. Each mother mates and gives birth according to her own schedule, but she lives in an all-female, communal herd.  Each  calf is protected by and remains with the herd, but it must be able to stand, walk and keep up with the herd shortly after birth or it will be left behind.  The male calf  must leave when he reaches puberty.  Bulls live a solitary life, except when mating.  Elephants are the largest land mammal; they have tusks, feet and trunks to help protect the calves, in addition to their size and number.

Man is their  greatest enemy.

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