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The 9 Worst Moms in the Animal Kingdom

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No matter how many mistakes your mother may have made, there’s no way she's in the same class as these animal mothers.

1. Harp Seals

Mothers of these precious little ones are highly dedicated for the first twelve days. In fact, they do not eat at all during that period. Unfortunately, once the feeding is over, that’s it for mother-child bonding—she’s out of there, ready to mate again.

Unlike many other species with such abrupt weaning periods, the harp seal pup can’t go on to survive on its own yet. Instead it is left stranded on the ice for the next month and a half, leaving it incredibly vulnerable to predators. The babies will lose half of their body weight during this lengthy fasting period. Finally, when they are about eight weeks old, they are ready to swim and are able to start hunting for their own food. With a childhood like this, it’s no wonder that at least 30% of all pups die during their first year.

Image courtesy of Luke Bryant's Flickr stream.

2. Cuckoos

Perhaps the most famous bad mother on this list, the cuckoo tricks other birds into raising her own youngster,

freeing her up to enjoy life as a single bird. She does this by laying her eggs in the nest of another bird. Unfortunately for her victims, the cuckoo chick is hardly a grateful adoptee. Instead, the chick hatches earlier and grows faster than the other bird’s real brood, forcing the smaller chicks out of the nest to die.

Image courtesy of Per Harald Olsen.

3. House Sparrows

While most women would be furious if their husband cheated on them, few would choose to take it out on any offspring that resulted from the infidelity. But that’s just what the house sparrow does — she seeks out nests of other females that mated with her partner and kills the resulting chicks. This way, her baby’s daddy will spend his time fathering her own youngsters. Just imagine finding out your mom killed your half-brother so your dad would spend more time with you.

Image courtesy of gingiber's Flickr stream.

4. Pandas

I know, it’s hard to think anything negative about these adorably cuddly critters, but the reality is that they’re pretty negligent parents. In fact, despite the fact that pandas often have twins, they almost never care for more than one cub. The mom will choose the weaker of the two babies and start ignoring him or her in favor of the stronger sibling.

To be fair, it’s not entirely her fault; bamboo is notoriously low in nutrients, so it’s near impossible for a mother to make enough milk to feed two cubs. Even so, it’s a harsh decision for a mother to make. At least the cubs abandoned in zoos are still cared for since zookeepers don't have to worry about limited milk production like the cub's natural mothers do.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia user colegota.

5. Black Bears

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the black bear generally has two or three cubs at a time. Unfortunately, when she only has one cub, the mother will often abandon it, deciding that raising only one baby just isn’t worth her effort.

6. Black Eagles

Any mother with more than one child can tell you just how irritating sibling squabbles are, but most parents know when to say enough is enough and to break it up. When it comes to black eagles though, mom often just watches the fight, even when the older, stronger chick ends up killing the younger sibling.

Image courtesy of Qihui Hanabi's Flickr stream.

7. Rabbits

If you ever thought your mom didn’t have enough time for you when you were young, just be glad you weren’t born a bunny. Rabbit mothers immediately leave the burrow after giving birth and only stop by for a few minutes each day afterwards in order to feed the litter. After less than a month, the youngsters are left to fend for themselves. In the rabbit’s defense, she’s actually helping her babies by minimizing the chance the burrow will be found by predators.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia user Rklawton.

8. Burying Beetles

Burying beetles are big believers in the idea that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. The larvae live in a mouse carcass and get fed as mom consumes the dead creature and regurgitates the meat to her kids. Unfortunately, there’s not enough mouse meat for everyone, so the ones that get mom’s attention get fed first…the rest get eaten by their own mother.

Image courtesy of gailhampshire's Flickr.

9. Skinks

What’s a protective lizard mother to do when there are too many predators around her egg clutch? Well, if you’re a skink, you say, “better luck next time,” and eat the eggs before they get a chance to hatch. I guess it’s better that your parenting efforts benefit your species rather than your predators, but it’s still a little weird to dive into cannibalism without even giving your babies a chance at life.

Image courtesy of ecotist's Flickr stream.
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With these traumatic childhoods in mind, suddenly your own mother’s mistakes seem a lot smaller, don’t they? Well then, Happy Mother’s Day!

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science
Tracing Vladimir Nabokov's 1941 Cross-Country Road Trip, One Butterfly at a Time
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Vladimir Nabokov is most famous as a writer, but the Russian scribe was also an amateur—yet surprisingly accomplished—lepidopterist. Nabokov first began collecting butterflies as a child, and after moving to the U.S. in 1940 he began volunteering in the Lepidoptera collections at the American Museum of Natural History.

The following year, the author took a cross-country road trip, driving 4000 miles from Pennsylvania to California. Along the way, he stopped at kitschy roadside motels, which provided atmospheric fodder for his 1955 novel Lolita. Nabokov also collected hundreds of butterfly samples at these rest stops, most of which he ended up donating to the AMNH.

Nabokov would go on to publish multiple scientific papers on lepidoptery—including the definitive scholarly study of the genus Lycaeides, or the “blues”—and produce perhaps thousands of delicate butterfly drawings. Multiple butterfly species were also named after him, including Nabokov’s wood nymph.

In the AMNH’s 360-degree video below, you can trace the author's 1941 cross-country road trip state-by-state, see some of the specimens he collected, and learn how museum curators are using his westward journey to better understand things like species distribution and migration patterns.

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Animals
Elusive Butterfly Sighted in Scotland for the First Time in 133 Years

Conditions weren’t looking too promising for the white-letter hairstreak, an elusive butterfly that’s native to the UK. Threatened by habitat loss, the butterfly's numbers have dwindled by 96 percent since the 1970s, and the insect hasn’t even been spotted in Scotland since 1884. So you can imagine the surprise lepidopterists felt when a white-letter hairstreak was seen feeding in a field in Berwickshire, Scotland earlier in August, according to The Guardian.

A man named Iain Cowe noticed the butterfly and managed to capture it on camera. “It is not every day that something as special as this is found when out and about on a regular butterfly foray,” Cowe said in a statement provided by the UK's Butterfly Conservation. “It was a very ragged and worn individual found feeding on ragwort in the grassy edge of an arable field.”

The white-letter hairstreak is a small brown butterfly with a white “W”-shaped streak on the underside of its wings and a small orange spot on its hindwings. It’s not easily sighted, as it tends to spend most of its life feeding and breeding in treetops.

The butterfly’s preferred habitat is the elm tree, but an outbreak of Dutch elm disease—first noted the 1970s—forced the white-letter hairstreak to find new homes and food sources as millions of Britain's elm trees died. The threatened species has slowly spread north, and experts are now hopeful that Scotland could be a good home for the insect. (Dutch elm disease does exist in Scotland, but the nation also has a good amount of disease-resistant Wych elms.)

If a breeding colony is confirmed, the white-letter hairstreak will bump Scotland’s number of butterfly species that live and breed in the country up to 34. “We don’t have many butterfly species in Scotland so one more is very nice to have,” Paul Kirkland, director of Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said in a statement.

Prior to 1884, the only confirmed sighting of a white-letter hairstreak in Scotland was in 1859. However, the insect’s newfound presence in Scotland comes at a cost: The UK’s butterflies are moving north due to climate change, and the white-letter hairstreak’s arrival is “almost certainly due to the warming climate,” Kirkland said.

[h/t The Guardian]

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