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11 Awesome Animal Kingdom Moms

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Mother’s Day might sound human-centric, but there are plenty of moms out in the wild who exhibit excellent parenting skills.

1. Emperor Penguins

If you’ve ever watched March of the Penguins, you have some idea of what being a penguin parent entails (it’s really, really hard). Both Emperor moms and dads put in a lot of work when it comes to raising their young: After laying their eggs, Emperor moms immediately leave their mates to watch the eggs for up to eight weeks, and they may return after their chick has hatched. At that time, they take over the brooding, while their mates go out for food, a process that repeats for nearly two months.

2. Cheetahs

Sure, brooding and feeding are extremely important parts of animal kingdom parenting, but what about teaching your little whippersnappers to do that kind of stuff on their own? Cheetah moms are especially patient when it comes to training their offspring to both hunt their meals and escape falling prey to other larger animals. Sound easy? It’s not—mainly because cheetahs often have large broods (up to nine cubs at a time) that all need training at the same time. It can take up to two years for the cubs to really learn and internalize their mom’s lessons. 

3. Elephants

Elephant moms are pregnant for a significant amount of time—22 hefty months—only to then give birth to gigantic babies (elephant calves clock in around 200 pounds!). And that’s just the beginning of elephant parenting.

Baby elephants are born big, but they are also born blind, and they rely on both their trunks and their moms to get around. After they get with the program, baby elephants live in an extremely mom-centric environment—elephants form a matriarchal society where just about every female takes part in raising the little ones. Elephant babies rely on their mothers for support and nutrition for up to two years, during which they are also taught to forage, collect water, and protect themselves.

4. Harp Seal

Harp seal moms have a lot to contend with—the moving ice sheets they call home, polar bears desperate to eat them, poachers who want their fur—but even without all those outside worries, things still get pretty dicey. Harp seal mothers lose an extreme amount of weight while feeding their pups. The first 12 days of a harp seal pup’s life is spent feeding on their mom’s milk—a potent blend that boasts 48 percent fat—while their mother doesn’t eat a thing. Pups will gain five pounds a day, but their mothers will lose around seven, all in service to fattening up their little ones.

5. Orangutan

Orangutan moms stand out in the mothering world thanks to two major elements of their parenting that are not duplicated by other species.

First, they build brand-new nests every single night, which means that most orangutans build up to 30,000 homes over the course of their lives. Not impressed yet? Consider the second trait of orangutan moms: They don’t put their babies down for years. You try building a nest with a baby hanging off you! Better yet, try it with a toddler—orangutan kids have the longest dependence period of any animal, and they will stay attached to their moms for up to seven years.

6. Wolf Spiders

While other spiders leave their eggs on their webs while they go about their normal spider lives, wolf spiders take their egg sacs with them everywhere—and then take their young everywhere after they’ve hatched. Wolf spider moms attach their sacs to their bodies, later letting the baby spiders ride on their backs until they’re of age to hop off.

7. Polar Bears

After getting impregnated, polar bear moms need to pack on the pounds: If they don’t at least double their body weight (usually adding another 400 pounds), their bodies will reabsorb their fetuses. After all that eating, the hefty mamas then need to dig a den in the snow, hibernate for about two months, and give birth—often without even waking up.

While that part of the parenting process might sound easy, polar bear moms are then tasked with taking care of their little ones for about two years, during which they will all journey for more pound-packing food to pad their next hibernation, practice hunting and defense, and dig a new den or two.

8. Octopuses

There’s little chance you’ll ever stumble into an octopus egg den, but take our advice—it’s not something you want to do. Octopus moms are especially driven to reproduce, which is why they will lay up to 200,000 eggs in order to up their odds. Moms will then protect the eggs for up to two months—they won't even leave to hunt! Some octopus mothers will go so far as to eat their own tentacles to keep up their energy during the protection period.

9. Koalas

When it comes to koalas, their big tummies can make raising their cubs a bit harder (and definitely grosser). Koalas chow down on poisonous eucalyptus leaves because their digestive tracts are filled with a special bacterium that can process the leaves—but they’re not born with it. Koalas work to build up their joeys’ tolerance by feeding them their poop.

As if that wasn’t already some all-time mom material, koalas are also marsupials, meaning they are born without fur, ears, or eyes, and they have to finish development in their moms' pouches (before it’s time to get down to the poop-eating).

10. Alligators

Alligators may not look very cuddly, but they make excellent mothers. A gator mom kicks things into high gear by building a nest made out of rotting vegetation that self-heats, allowing her to hunt, hang out, and guard said nest with maximum attention.

Internal temperature often determines the sex of the gator babies, so the nests have to be made with climate control. Nests that heat up to less than 88 degrees make girl gators, while warmer nests (over 91 degrees) usually spawn boy gators. After the kids hatch, gator moms will gently carry their young in their giant mouths, taking them to the water to learn all the necessary gator stuff they have to know, with lessons often stretching out for a whole year.

11. Greater Hornbills

Koalas aren’t the only animal moms that rely on poop for parenting—greater hornbills also use it, but for a different reason. Hornbills lay their eggs in hollowed-out trees, with mama hornbills staying behind to protect the eggs while papa hornbills go out for food. Where does the poop come into play? The hornbills use it to seal up holes in their hollowed-out homes, the very same places where the mother hornbills spend their days.

All images courtesy of Thinkstock.

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Big Questions
Why Do We Dive With Sharks But Not Crocodiles?
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Why do we dive with sharks but not crocodiles?

Eli Rosenberg:

The issue is the assumption that sharks' instincts are stronger and more basic.

There are a couple of reasons swimming with sharks is safer:

1. Most sharks do not like the way people taste. They expect their prey to taste a certain way, like fish/seal, and we do not taste like that. Sharks also do not like the sensation of eating people. Bigger sharks like great whites enjoy prey with a high fat-bone ratio like seals. Smaller sharks enjoy eating fish, which they can gobble in one bite. So, while they might bite us, they pretty quickly decide “That’s not for me” and swim away. There is only one shark that doesn’t really care about humans tasting icky: that shark is our good friend the tiger shark. He is one of the most dangerous species because of his nondiscriminatory taste (he’s called the garbage can of the sea)!

2. Sharks are not animals that enjoy a fight. Our big friend the great white enjoys ambushing seals. This sneak attack is why it sometimes mistakes people for seals or sea turtles. Sharks do not need to fight for food. The vast majority of sharks species are not territorial (some are, like the blacktip and bull). The ones that are territorial tend to be the more aggressive species that are more dangerous to dive with.

3. Sharks attacked about 81 people in 2016, according to the University of Florida. Only four were fatal. Most were surfers.

4. Meanwhile, this is the saltwater crocodile. The saltwater crocodile is not a big, fishy friend, like the shark. He is an opportunistic, aggressive, giant beast.


5. Crocodiles attack hundreds to thousands of people every single year. Depending on the species, one-third to one-half are fatal. You have a better chance of survival if you played Russian roulette.

6. The Death Roll. When a crocodile wants to kill something big, the crocodile grabs it and rolls. This drowns and disorients the victim (you). Here is a PG video of the death roll. (There is also a video on YouTube in which a man stuck his arm into an alligator’s mouth and he death rolled. You don’t want to see what happened.)

7. Remember how the shark doesn’t want to eat you or fight you? This primordial beast will eat you and enjoy it. There is a crocodile dubbed Gustave, who has allegedly killed around 300 people. (I personally believe 300 is a hyped number and the true number might be around 100, but yikes, that’s a lot). Gustave has reportedly killed people for funsies. He’s killed them and gone back to his business. So maybe they won’t even eat you.


8. Sharks are mostly predictable. Crocodiles are completely unpredictable.

9. Are you in the water or by the edge of the water? You are fair game to a crocodile.

10. Crocodiles have been known to hang out together. The friend group that murders together eats together. Basks of crocodiles have even murdered hippopotamuses, the murder river horse. Do you think you don't look like an appetizer?

11. Wow, look at this. This blacktip swims among the beautiful coral, surrounded by crystal clear waters and staggering biodiversity. I want to swim there!

Oh wow, such mud. I can’t say I feel the urge to take a dip. (Thanks to all who pointed this out!)

12. This is not swimming with the crocodiles. More like a 3D aquarium.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Animals
10 Filling Facts About Turkeys
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Don’t be fooled by their reputation for being thoughtless. These roly-poly birds have a few tricks up their wings.

1. THE BIRDS WERE NAMED AFTER THE COUNTRY.

The turkey is an American bird, so why does it share its name with a country on the other side of the world? Laziness, mostly. Turkish traders had been importing African guinea fowl to Europe for some time when North American explorers started shipping M. gallopavo back to the Old World. The American birds looked kind of like the African “turkey-cocks,” and so Europeans called them “turkeys.” Eventually, the word “turkey” came to describe M. gallopavo exclusively.

2. THEY NEARLY WENT EXTINCT.

By the early 20th century, the combination of overzealous hunting and habitat destruction had dwindled the turkey populations down to 30,000. With the help of conservationists, the turkey made a comeback. The birds are now so numerous that they’ve become a nuisance in some parts of the country.

3. THEY’VE GOT TWO STOMACHS.

Like all birds, turkeys don’t have teeth, so they’ve got to enlist some extra help to break down their food. Each swallowed mouthful goes first into a chamber called a proventriculus, which uses stomach acid to start softening the food. From there, food travels to the gizzard, where specialized muscles smash it into smaller pieces.

4. FEMALE TURKEYS DON’T GOBBLE.

Turkeys of both sexes purr, whistle, cackle, and yelp, but only the males gobble. A gobble is the male turkey’s version of a lion’s roar, announcing his presence to females and warning his rivals to stay away. To maximize the range of their calls, male turkeys often gobble from the treetops.

5. THEY SLEEP IN TREES.

Due to their deliciousness, turkeys have a lot of natural predators. As the sun goes down, the turkeys go up—into the trees. They start by flying onto a low branch, then clumsily hop their way upward, branch by branch, until they reach a safe height.

6. BOTH MALE AND FEMALE TURKEYS HAVE WATTLES.

The wattle is the red dangly bit under the turkey’s chin. The red thing on top of the beak is called a snood. Both sexes have those, too, but they’re more functional in male turkeys. Studies have shown that female turkeys prefer mates with longer snoods, which may indicate health and good genes.

7. THEY HAVE REALLY GOOD VISION.

Turkey eyes are really, really sharp. On top of that, they’ve got terrific peripheral vision. We humans can only see about 180 degrees, but given the placement of their eyes on the sides of their heads, turkeys can see 270 degrees. They’ve also got way better color vision than we do and can see ultraviolet light.

8. THEY’RE FAST ON THE GROUND, TOO.

You wouldn’t guess it by looking at them, but turkeys can really book it when they need to. We already know they’re fast in the air; on land, a running turkey can reach a speed of up to 25 mph—as fast as a charging elephant.

9. THEY’RE SMART … BUT NOT THAT SMART.

Turkeys can recognize each other by sound, and they can visualize a map of their territory. They can also plan ahead and recognize patterns. In other ways, they’re very, very simple animals. Male turkeys will attack anything that looks remotely like a threat, including their own reflections in windows and car doors.

10. IN THE EVENT OF A TURKEY ATTACK, CALL THE POLICE.

They might look silly, but a belligerent turkey is no joke. Male turkeys work very hard to impress other turkeys, and what could be more impressive than attacking a bigger animal? Turkey behavior experts advise those who find themselves in close quarters with the big birds to call the police if things get mean. Until the authorities arrive, they say, your best bet is to make yourself as big and imposing as you possibly can.

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