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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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Bite Helper
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technology
New Gadget Claims to De-Itch Your Mosquito Bites
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Bite Helper

Summer can be an itchy time for anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors. Mosquitos are everywhere, and some people are particularly susceptible to their bites and the itching that comes with them. A new product aims to stop the suffering. Bite Helper, reviewed by Mashable, is designed to stop your bites from itching.

Place the pen-like device over your swollen bite and it will begin to emit heat and vibrations designed to quell the itch. It’s meant to increase blood flow around the area to alleviate your pain, heating your skin up to 120°F for up to 45 seconds. It’s the size of a thin tube of sunscreen and is battery powered.

Most dermatologists advise applying cold to alleviate itching from insect bites, so the question is: Will heating up your skin really work? Bite Helper hasn’t been clinically tested, so it’s hard to say for certain how effective it would be. There has been some research to suggest that heat can help increase blood flow in general, but decrease histamine-induced blood flow in the skin (part of the body’s normal response to allergens) and reduce itching overall. In a German study of wasp, mosquito, and bee stings, concentrated heat led to a significant improvement in symptoms, though the researchers focused mostly on pain reduction rather than itching.

Bite Helper’s technique "seems like a legitimate claim" when it comes to localized itching, Tasuku Akiyama, who studies the mechanisms of itching at the University of Miami, tells Mental Floss. "The increase in the blood flow may increase the rate of elimination of itch mediator from the area." However, before that happens, the heat might also make the itch a little worse in the short-term, he cautions. This seems to be borne out by user experience: While Mashable's reviewer found that using the device didn’t hurt at all, his daughter found it too hot to bear for more than a few seconds.

If the device does in fact relieve itching, though, a few seconds of pain may be worth it.

Bite Helper is $25 on Amazon.

[h/t Mashable]

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Oakley Originals, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0
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Animals
Could Imported Sperm Help Save America’s Bees?
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Oakley Originals, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

It might be time to call in some sexual backup for male American bees. Scientists have started impregnating domestic honeybees with foreign sperm in the hopes that enlarging the gene pool will give our bees a fighting chance.

These days, the bees need all the help they can get. Colonies across the globe are disappearing and dying off, partly due to the increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides and partly from a parasite called the varroa mite. The invasive mite first landed on American shores in 1987, and it's been spreading and sickening and devouring our bees ever since.

Part of the problem, researchers say, is that the American bee gene pool has gone stagnant. We stopped importing live honeybees in 1922, which means that all the bees we've got are inbred and, therefore, all alike. They lack the genetic diversity that allows species to adapt to changing conditions or new threats. So when the mites come, they all get hit.

Many apiarists now rely on anti-mite pesticides to keep their charges safe. While these treatments may help keep the mites away, they aren't great for the bees, either—and the mites have begun to develop a resistance. But beekeepers feel like their hands are tied.

"I lost 40 percent of my colonies to varroa last fall," Matthew Shakespear of Olson's Honeybees told NPR. "I'm not taking any more chances. We've already done five treatments, compared with the two treatments we applied this time last year."

But there might be another way. Experts at the University of Washington have started to—how can we put this delicately?—manually encourage drones (male bees) in Europe and Asia to give up their sperm. All it takes is a little belly rub, and the drone, er, donates 1 microliter of fluid, or one-tenth of the amount needed to inseminate a queen bee.

"They're really accommodating," bee breeder and researcher Susan Cobey told NPR. 

It's hardly a painless procedure, but researcher Brandon Hopkins told Mental Floss it's no worse than sex in the wild. "In natural mating he uses pressure from muscles and hemolymph to evert [his genitals], (inflating it and forcing it to pop out)," Hopkins wrote in an email. "In the lab we apply pressure to the head and thorax to create similar pressure to cause the eversion. In both cases (naturally and artificially) the male dies from the process of mating."

So far, the scientists' attempts to crossbreed foreign and domestic bees have been successful. Within their test colonies, genetic diversity is up.

"This doesn't mean they are superior in performance to the other bees," Hopkins told NPR. "It means we have a better chance of finding rare and unique traits." Traits, Hopkins says, like genetic resistance to the varroa mites—a quality shared by donor bees in Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Kazakhstan, and the Republic of Georgia.

Other beekeepers are opting for a more hands-off approach, introducing imported queens to their domestic hives. Shakespear bought his from Cobey, who reared them from bees she collected in Slovenia.

"Maybe these new genetics can deal with the varroa mites naturally," Shakespear said, "rather than having to rely on chemicals. It's time to start widening our gene pool."

[h/t The Salt]

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