Animal Family Types
Extended Family Care
Lions have interesting families made up of one or two males plus a group of females. The females tend to be sisters, so they all work together to raise their cubs, even nursing their sister’s cubs. These sisters tend to live together for all of their life, so they hunt together, play together, and raise the cubs together. The males, in contrast, come and go through the pride. A strong, dominant male can only defend the pride for a few years before a rival male successfully challenges him. Male lions live shorter lives in the wild than in a zoo primarily because of the fighting they do to defend the pride against other male lions. In the wild, two male lions will sometimes team up in order to have the strength to defend a pride.
Scrub jays, acorn woodpeckers, Harris’ hawks, and a number of other birds have extended families where the youngsters hatched in one year will stay on to help their parents raise young the next year. Biologists call this behavior “helpers at the nest” and it is a strategy that works especially well where food or prime nesting spots are scarce. The birds work together to find food, often working in a group to flush out insects or other small prey.
Ants and Bees
Most kinds of ants, bees, wasps, etc. are social insects that live in colonies. They have a fascinating family life, led by a queen. The queen starts the colony after taking flight as a youngster and mating with a male.
Once she lands, her wings drop off, and she finds a good place to start the colony underground or in a tree. She begins to lay eggs, which hatch into worker females. These worker ants or bees set about building the nests for future eggs, gathering food, building tunnels, and defending the colony from intruders etc. Most of the eggs that the queen lays hatch into females that will never breed. Thus, all of the workers are sisters that will never start a separate family. They work instead for the good of their mother and sisters in one large family.
Then, occasionally the queen will lay eggs that hatch into males or females that have queen potential. Those animals go off to start their own colonies.
Some Primates and Us
Some primates, such as chimpanzees, and people also have extended families. There are aunts, brothers, sisters and other relatives beyond mom and dad who look out for a youngster’s well being. It is a great way for youngsters to learn in a safe environment.
See other family types by following the links on the right side of the page.