Animal Families

There is no one correct way for parents with an infant to raise
Some animals have mom, dad, or both give the praise
So much to learn for an animal kid
From how to eat to how to stay hid
Parents are the ones who share this knowledge
So that animal youngsters don’t need to go to college

- by Robin Whittall

Join us for an overview of the different ways animals have families!

Some animals are raised by their mom, others by dad, and still others by both parents. Many animals hatch from eggs and never see mom or dad.

There is lots of variation of what “family” means in the animal world.

There isn’t one best way. As with most strategies in the animal world, each species has a reason for parenting the way it does, and the reasons have to do with survival in their habitat and social system. They do what works best for the survival of their offspring.

There are two main strategies that animals use in terms of reproductive goals.
Some animals fall in between these two extremes.

Weed Strategy
First, some animals breed like weeds, producing as many offspring as they possibly can in a given time. Their offspring are usually small, don’t learn complex hunting or other behaviors, and so are sent off into the world as fast as possible. Parents spend minimal time protecting and teaching these babies. The offspring rely largely on instinctual behaviors that are “hard-wired” into them through natural selection. 

Examples are mice, rabbits, bass, chickens, many insects, etc. These animals usually have a short lifespan, and most of the offspring are eaten by predators before maturing.  
The Weed Strategy:

  • Have lots of offspring, sometimes more than one litter/clutch each year
  • Take care of them for only a short while before they are on their own   

Greater Investment Strategy
The second strategy involves a longer period of care by the parents. This includes instruction on how to hunt or gather food, how to interact with others, etc. Examples of this strategy include wolves, chimpanzees, many other large mammals, and many birds that take care of helpless young in the nest. Animals that use this strategy usually have smaller broods or litters than those in the other camp. This is partly because they tend to have relatively larger infants and spend a lot more parenting time on individual attention and training. So, for example, a mouse has a litter of six or more babies, while a bat of the same size has only one or two much larger babies. A chicken has perhaps 10 chicks, while an eagle has a couple.

The “greater investment” strategy:  

  • Have fewer, sometimes large, young
  • Take care of them for a relatively long time, teaching them more in-depth

In either strategy, life is hard. Remember that in a stable population of animals, each parent will only have one offspring survive to reproduce and replace them in the population. This is the tough reality of nature – most offspring die and only the best adapted survive to reproduce. So, if a population of wild mice is stable – not increasing or decreasing – then the two parents will only have two babies survive to adulthood of all the scores of youngsters they rear!

See how each type of animal family works by following one of the links below.

Just Mom   Just Dad   Mom & Dad   Extended Family   You're On Your Own

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