The 5 Worst Fathers In the Animal Kingdom

These dads won't be getting any Father's Day cards this Sunday.

1. Lions

Image courtesy of James Hopkirk's Flickr stream

You may already know that a male lion that recently became head of his pride will usually kill all the cubs sired by the previous leader. But while that makes lions terrible step-dads, it doesn’t make them terrible fathers. What makes lions bad dads is a combination of greed and laziness. Papa lions spend most of their day lying in the shade, waiting for one of their wives to bring home dinner. The female does all of the hunting and pretty much all of the parenting. The male’s job is to protect his territory from other prides and scavengers like hyenas.

Once the mama brings home her kill, the male lion is always the first one to eat and he often leaves only scraps for the rest of the pride –including any of his recently weaned children. If it’s a rough hunting season, an alpha lion will let his wives and children starve first.

2. Grizzly Bears

Image courtesy of BC Gov Photos' Flickr stream

It’s rare for any animal-kingdom father to eat his own young when he isn’t desperate for food, but the male grizzly bear will do just that. These baby-daddies are extremely protective of their territories, which can range all the way up to 1,500 miles, and are opportunistic hunters, willing to kill and eat anything that happens to enter their home turf –even their own cubs.

That means mama bears have to be extra good parents, not only making sure to feed their cubs and teach them how to survive on their own, but also ensuring their youngsters never happen to stray into their daddy’s bachelor pad.

3. Bass

Image courtesy of Velo Steve's Flickr stream

There are a lot of bad fathers under the sea. In fact, even those that are highly protective of their spawn, like male bass, are still prone to eating their own children. In the case of the bass, this occurs after most of the newborns have swum away and a few stragglers remain. Suddenly daddy stops protecting his kids from predators and becomes a predator himself, swallowing up all of the stragglers as a reward to himself for helping the strong ones stay alive.

4. Sand Goby

Image courtesy of Preview_H's Flickr stream

Similarly, the male sand goby is relentless about guarding his eggs from predators, but even if he has plenty of extra food available, he will still eat about a third of his brood. Research into how he decides which eggs to keep and which to eat reveals that size matters:  male gobies tend to eat the largest eggs. In many species, large babies mean a higher chance for survival –and thus, they are the most protected members of the family—but the sand goby knows that the largest eggs take longest to hatch. Pops snacks on the eggs that would take the longest to develop so he can get out of there and back to mating as soon as possible.

5. Assassin Bug

Image courtesy of Malcom NQ's Flickr stream

With a name like “assassin bug” you’d hardly expect this insect to be sweet, but filial cannibalism is still pretty gruesome. Daddy assassin bug is tasked with protecting his eggs until they hatch. His tactic mostly involves eating the eggs on the outside edges of the brood, which are otherwise most likely to fall victim to parasitic wasps. This defensive strategy is so hardwired that the bugs do it even in laboratory settings completely devoid of any potential parasites. Scientists believe this is because eating the eggs doesn’t only protect the insects against possible parasites, but also provides the male assassin bug with ample nutrients when his guard duty leaves him unable to forage. Interestingly, assassin bugs do have a bit of a soft spot—the males are some of the only insects that are willing to adopt broods from other fathers. (They don’t eat any extra eggs when their kids are adopted.)

A Few Good Dads

Not all the fathers in nature are so cold-hearted; in fact, some are downright amazing dads.

Image courtesy of eustatic's Flickr stream

You probably already know that seahorse daddies handle pregnancy duties, but they’re not the only ones: the hardhead catfish carries up to 48 eggs in his mouth until they hatch. How does he eat without swallowing down a few of his babies-to-be? He simply starves for two months, until his youngsters all hatch and swim away. Now that’s dedication.

Similarly, the giant African bullfrog carries up to 6,000 eggs in his vocal sacs for six weeks. When they’re ready to be born, he throws up, releasing thousands of baby tadpoles into the world.

Image courtesy of NoiseCollusion's Flickr stream

Every child loves piggyback rides – especially the giant waterbug. That’s because the mom cements up to 150 eggs to dad’s back and papa gives all of his youngsters a piggyback until they are born - a full month later.

The daddy rhea not only sits on his eggs for two months, forgoing food for all but two weeks of the incubation period, but then raises and guards the chicks for the first two years of their lives.
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Happy Father’s Day to all you Flossers! And remember: even if you don't get along, at least your dad never tried to eat you.

Kathrin Weiland
Cow Manure and Elephant Dung Could Be Used to Make the Paper of the Future
Kathrin Weiland
Kathrin Weiland

The average dairy cow produces 82 pounds of manure daily. For elephants, that number is up to 300 pounds. According to researchers at the University of Vienna, all that dung represents an untapped resource that has the potential to change the way we make paper.

The team of scientists presented their findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society on March 21. Waste from cows and elephants, they say, is rich in the same cellulose that's required to make paper products. What's more, the cellulose in manure has been broken down by digestion, making it easier for paper manufacturers to process.

"Animals eat low-grade biomass containing cellulose, chew it and expose it to enzymes and acid in their stomach, and then produce manure," researcher Alexander Bismarck said in a statement. "Depending on the animal, up to 40 percent of that manure is cellulose, which is then easily accessible."

Bismarck first got the idea to make paper from manure after seeing goats graze on dry grass in a small village in Crete. As he watched the plant matter go in, he wondered if that same matter wouldn't be suitable for making paper once it came out the other end. Today most paper is made by grinding down raw wood into nanocellulose, a process that takes a lot of power. The cellulose in dung has already been chewed and worn down by acid and enzymes in the animal's digestive system, cutting out the need for all that grinding.

Following Bismarck's goat manure–inspired revelation, he and his team began working with waste from horses, cows, and now elephants. Thanks to cattle farms and elephant parks around the world, this material is an abundant sustainable resource. The dung they collect is treated with a sodium hydroxide solution to remove lignin, the glue that holds cellulose fibers together (and can also be used as fuel). From there, they filter out other impurities like proteins and dead cells and bleach whatever's left with sodium hypochlorite to create a pure, white pulp that's ready to be made into paper.

The research team is currently exploring potential applications for the material. For now, they say it could be used as reinforcement for polymer composites or as filters for wastewater. It can also be made into paper for writing, though it may be a while until you see notebooks made from elephant dung at your local office supply store.

Palm Trees in Canada? It Could Happen, Thanks to Climate Change

Human-caused global warming has the potential to transform coastlines, weather patterns, and entire populations. According to a new study published in Scientific Reports, the creep of palm trees into higher latitudes could be another sign that our planet is changing. If our climate continues to warm, the tropical flora could soon be spotted as far north as Canada.

In the new study, reported by Earther, researchers from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and two Canadian institutions looked at the temperature tolerances of palm species best suited for chillier weather. Many varieties don't need a year-round tropical climate to thrive: As long as the average temperature for the coldest month of the year for the region is above 36°F, some palms can grow in northern latitudes. This is why you can see palm trees in Greenville, North Carolina, where average temperatures for January fall above 36°F, but not Washington D.C., where average January temperatures tend to dip below that number.

But that could soon change. As is the case with most northern states, average temperatures in D.C. are rising and winters are getting milder, which means it's shaping up to be an inviting habitat for palm trees. Not all palm species tolerate the same climatic conditions, and the effects of the species' competition with native and non-native plants in more northerly regions remains to be seen. But if the palms do migrate that far north in the coming years, the Northeast, Northwest, and even parts of Canada could be next.

A future of palm trees in Canada isn't as far-fetched as it may sound. Winters in these areas are already warm enough for people to plant palm trees in their gardens. In a controlled environment, these trees can flower and spread fruit, but average temperatures will need to climb a little higher before palm seedlings can survive in the wild.

[h/t Earther]


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