Totally weird things animal mums do

This Mother's Day, be thankful your mum is human - maternal habits in the animal kingdom can be far more annoying than telling you to clean your room


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Today is Mother’s Day in Hong Kong, and much of the world. It’s a day when we celebrate the kindness of the women who raise us, and give them back a little of that selflessness.

But things aren’t so predictable with animals. In honour of this special day - and to remind you not to take your mum for granted - we picked the brains of YP pet columnist, Dr Michael Bradley of Stanley Veterinary Clinic, to find out about some of the unusual ways some animal mothers treat their offspring.

Mummy, what are you?

The duck-billed platypus is an odd creature: it looks like a mix between a guinea pig, duck and Wolverine. It is one of two mammals to lay eggs, like a bird, instead of giving birth.

Like other mammals, the babies are fed milk; but unlike other mammals, the mother doesn’t have nipples, so can’t suckle her young. Instead, the milk comes out of sweat-like glands and pools in grooves on her stomach, and then the young can lap it up.

An unfair reputation?

Say the words “alligator” or “crocodile”, and most people imagine lean, green, eating machines. But in fact, when it comes to their young, the mothers of the species are quite attentive mothers, building nests for their young, and caring for them once they hatch. They’ll even carry the babies in mouth and take to water.

But if you assume this means everything you’ve seen on TV is misleading, and assume girls like Pui Pui, the saltwater crocodile at Hong Kong Wetland Park “is equally loving to all creatures, including you”, says Bradley, who is part of the vet team that treats the local croc, “you’d be very, very wrong”. Don’t mess with them.

Mummy? Mum? Muuummm?

Some people say there's a “maternal instinct”. It seems that cuckoos didn’t get that memo. The mother birds lay their eggs in the nest of another bird, usually of another species, and then leave the eggs. The “adoptive” mother doesn’t realise the baby cuckoo isn’t hers, and will feed it - even when that chick knocks her actual eggs or chicks out of the nest to ensure it gets more food.

Paternity leave

In a similarly unmaternal way, female seahorses lay the eggs, then leave the dad to it. Male seahorses are responsible for all parenting. The male keeps the eggs in a pouch until they hatch, then looks after them until they can care for themselves. Think of male seahorses as the stay-at-home dads of the animal kingdom.

Siamese fighting fish dads, too, are left holding the babies. A male fish build a nest out of air bubbles coated in saliva. After the female lays her eggs, he collects them in his mouth and place them in the nest to keep them safe from everything - including their mother, who is likely to eat them.

Potty training

It may seem as if it’s only exotic animal mums that exhibit strange behaviour; but in fact man’s best friend, and her mortal enemy have some odd habits, too.

Young puppies and kittens won't pee or poo until their mother licks their bottoms. Then, when they do poo, she eats it, so that the nest stays clean and dry. Of course, this means that if you adopt a very young puppy or kitten and hand-rear it, you have to take the mother’s place. Luckily this doesn't mean licking or eating; you can encourage them to go by rubbing their bottoms with damp cotton wool.