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The 9 Worst Moms in the Animal Kingdom

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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Animals
How to Identify Insects Just By Looking at Their Mouths
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Most of us learned how to tell arachnids and insects apart in elementary school, but classifying insects into their different orders based on looks alone is a little trickier. If you want to look at insects like an entomologist does, though, there’s one body part in particular you should focus on. According to a TED-Ed lesson by Anika Hazra, identifying the type of mouth an insect has can tell you a lot about what group it belongs to, what it eats, and how it evolved.

There are five main types of mouthparts insects can have, the most common of which is the chewing mouthpart. These mouths are characterized by large, serrated mandibles made for grinding up plants and prey. Believed to be the most primitive type of insect mouth still around today, you can see the chewing mouthpart on insects like ants and grasshoppers.

Other insect mouthparts include the pierce-sucking type, which is used by bedbugs and mosquitos to suck blood; the siphoning mouthpart, the curly, straw-like mouths that butterflies have; the sponging mouthpart, which helps flies sop up fluids; and the chewing-lapping mouthpart, which enables bees to build their hives as well as eat.

It’s important for scientists studying bugs to be able to recognize the diverse mouths of insects. It’s also a useful skill if you’re just a casual bug enthusiast. For illustrations of all the different mouthparts, check out the video from TED-Ed below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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science
Watch a Caterpillar Hatch From an Egg the Size of a Pinhead
© THIRTEEN Productions LLC
© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

The transformation from caterpillar to winged insect tends to get all the attention when it comes to the butterfly's life cycle, but if this video from Nature on PBS is any indication, the very beginning of the caterpillar's life is just as interesting as its time in the chrysalis.

Painted lady butterflies lay vibrant aqua-colored eggs that are as small as a pinhead. The adult butterflies lay clusters of these tiny eggs in the crevices of leaf veins, using a special glue to keep them stuck to the plant no matter what the angle. The caterpillars that emerge a few days later are as small as a grain of rice, and compared to their bodies, the leaf hairs they have to crawl over and around are as big as trees.

Eventually, of course, as The Very Hungry Caterpillar taught us, small as they might seem, those teensy bugs will soon chomp their way through the leaves that once seemed so giant in comparison, then pupate, emerge as butterflies, and start the process all over again. See the eggs hatch for yourself in the video below. Nature: Sex, Lies and Butterflies premieres on April 4.

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