Some animals take tender, loving care of their babies. Others just dump off a few thousand and hope some of them aren’t eaten…and then there are parents like these, who engage in slightly less conventional but no less effective parenting techniques. These are animals who had it rough or had it just plain strange growing up. Some of these may be disturbing, some of them may be heartwarming, and most of them are probably both.
These highly intelligent squid cousins get an early start as predators; their eggs are transparent, and both their brains and their sophisticated eyes are well developed long before they hatch. This allows the tiny baby tentacle-monsters to carefully observe other animals while still in the egg, and studies have shown that this period heavily influences their hunting style and preferred prey for the duration of their lives.
These burrowing creatures look remarkably like earthworms, but are actually amphibians like frogs, toads and salamanders. Rare and reclusive, we still have much to learn about their lifestyles. It wasn’t until recently that we discovered how at least one species rears its young; wrapped around her babies in an underground nest, the mother continuously grows extra layers of skin that her sharp-toothed babies strip off and eat every three days.
8. Phlebonotus Pallens
Cockroaches suffer one of the worst reputations in the animal kingdom, but far from deserved; of the thousands of species known, only a handful ever could or ever would invade your kitchen, they play integral roles in ecosystems around the world, they’re much more sanitary than you think, and some of them are even highly devoted parents. How devoted? Phlebonotus pallens, an amphibious cockroach from India, carries her young under her wing cases, specially shaped for this purpose and useless to actually fly. Nestled under this protective shield, the young chew tiny holes in their mother’s back and feed on her hemolymph (insect “blood”) using special fang-like mandibles they will lose as they grow older.
7. Suriname Toads
The Pipa pipa, also called the Suriname toad or star-fingered toad is a fully aquatic, flattened amphibian with a childcare technique shared by no other; during a complex mating dance, the male attaches the eggs to the female’s back, and her skin will eventually grow to almost cover them. Once they hatch, the froglets will spend several days living in their mother’s spongy, honeycomb-like flesh.
6. Tasmanian Devils
These famously ornery but truly misunderstood marsupials suffer through one of the harshest struggles of any newborn in nature; the female gives birth to up to FIFTY young at a time, but almost all of them are doomed to die. No larger than grains of rice, the young “joeys” are blind, hairless, slimy and almost maggot-like. As soon as they’re born, it’s a grueling, groping race to mother’s pouch – three inches away – where they will find only four teats. The first four to bite down on a nipple will remain there for the next three months, while the rest of their brothers and sisters starve to death within minutes.
5. Burying Beetles
These black and orange beetles more than live up to their Halloween motif; after mating late at night, the male and female seek out the corpse of a small bird or rodent and will spend the rest of the night digging a deep hole out from under it, all while working the body into a ball of meat. The male remains above ground, keeping watch over the tiny grave, while the female is buried alive with the body. There, she will watch over her grubs and even chew their food for them, like a mother bird, until the day she dies.
4. Cuckoo Birds
These sneaky parasites have learned a trick to childcare unfortunately shared by many of us humans: why do it yourself, when you can make it someone else’s problem? When it’s time to lay her egg, mother cuckoo simply finds the nest of another bird, drops off her own egg and never comes back. The unsuspecting hosts will raise the baby Cuckoo as their own, but the impostor’s larger size will overwork its adopted parents nearly to death, while their real chicks go hungry and may die before reaching adulthood. In some cuckoo species, the chick will even hatch early enough to push the other eggs out of the nest and kill them.
3. Dracula Ants
These tiny, wasp-like tropical ants primarily hunt large, venomous centipedes, attacking the many-legged killers in swarms and dragging their remains back to the nest. The adults, however, aren’t eating the centipedes they catch, but chewing them up as food for the grub-like, helpless ant larvae. So what do the adults eat? The blood of those same larvae, cutting them open and drinking just enough bodily fluids for their baby sisters to recover. Though it doesn’t kill them, the larvae do seem to panic and struggle when they sense a hungry grown-up coming.
2. Cannibal Tadpoles
Certain species of burrowing “spade foot” toads inhabit desert areas where water can be quite scarce and rapidly disappears during the dry season. To ensure the survival of at least a few offspring, their tadpoles come in two distinct forms: omnivores that live primarily off algae, carrion or small insects, and carnivores that live primarily off the flesh of the smaller, weaker omnivores. As water begins to dry up, some of the omnivores will transform into carnivores, and the rest will serve as an emergency food supply. It sounds rather cruel, but on a sweet note, they have been shown to avoid eating their own immediate brothers and sisters…at least until there’s no other option.
1. Adactylium Mites
These microscopic arachnids spend their entire lives as parasites on the eggs of tiny insects called thrips, and have perhaps one of the most sordid life cycles in the animal kingdom: inside a female’s body are many young females and only a single male, whose job is to impregnate all of his sisters before they are born. Their mother will die as her daughters break out of her body, and their brother will be left behind to die in her corpse… his purpose is served, and he has no means to survive in the outside world. Each of his pregnant sisters will repeat the gruesome, seedy process, and so will their daughters, and daughters daughters, all having crazy unborn bug incest again and again. Sometimes life really is stranger than fiction…even grotesquely obscene fiction!
by Jonathan Wocjcik