A Male Animal Mother?
There is only one known species in the animal kingdom in which it is the male, rather than the female that experiences pregnancy and childbirth. That distinguishing feature belongs to the fish family Syngnathidae, whose members include pipefish, sea dragons, and seahorses.
The female seahorse deposits her eggs within the male’s pouch, where they remain incubating for 45 days until the contractions begin and he gives birth to them. Presumably, during the pregnancy, the female is out shopping for snacks. Through studying seahorses, researchers hope to discover the causes of this evolutionary change.
Once the female has deposited her unfertilized eggs into the male brood pouch, the male fertilizes them and then produces a protective tissue that grows around the eggs. In addition to producing protective tissue, he also controls the salt concentration levels in the pouch. Like human mothers, he also provides oxygen and nutrients through a structure resembling a placenta until the embryos have developed sufficiently to be born.
The sex roles of seahorses are also reversed during the mating ritual. Females compete for males with available pouch space. This role reversal results in the evolution of secondary sex traits like bright colors for purposes of attracting a mate. Seahorses are monogamous during each breeding season, reducing competition and ensuring that each of them has a mate. Since males have childbearing responsibility, they tend to be choosy about which female eggs they accept.
Using molecular markers to analyze maternity, researchers discovered that while male pipefish only receive eggs from a single female, female pipefish often mate with multiple males. That particular mating system is called “classic polyandry”.
Something’s Fishy—Acting Male Animal Mothers
During their spawning period, the male lumpsucker fish’s red coloring on his fins and belly becomes brighter. The females arrive at the spawning site first and lay up to 200,000 eggs in shallow water. When the males arrive, they fertilize the eggs and then attach themselves to an object near the eggs and guard them against predators as they develop. He continues to guard them after they hatch, and when they are strong enough, he guides them to deeper water.
In some species of frogs, the males carry tadpoles in their mouths until they are able to survive independently. They even deny themselves food during the process! Other types of frogs actually embed their young inside their own skin to protect them. The male pouched frog, was named for the pouch in which he carries his babies while they continue to develop and gain strength after hatching.
As Free As a Bird
The phenomenon of the male animal mother isn’t limited to fish and amphibians, either. It is also found in certain species of birds. For example, the jacana, which is a seabird, takes responsibility for building the nest. He also incubates the eggs and cares for the chicks. During this process, the females, much like the pipefish, mate with as many other males as possible before beginning their migration. The males often remain with the nest even after the females have migrated
Many people are familiar with the heroic role the male Emperor penguin plays as a devoted male animal mother. He must act as a mother because the arduous process of laying the egg leaves the mother so depleted that it takes her two months to recover. During that time, she can do little but feed. She must travel to a distant food source, leaving her egg behind with the male to care for it. He assumes the responsibility of keeping the egg warm throughout the winter, which means that he must balance it on the tops of his feet, away from the freezing ice, for two full months.
Another acting male animal mother from the bird family is the male rhea. Although he may mate with up to twelve females, it doesn’t stop him from earning the father of the year award. Not only does he built the nest, he incubates up to 50 eggs at a time for up to six weeks. Once the eggs hatch, he raises the chicks for their first six months with no help whatsoever from any of the mothers.
Male Parenting in Mammals
While wolves have a reputation for being loners, male wolves actually play a big part in the care and feeding of their offspring. They stand guard over their pups when predators are near, and also perform double duty when hunting for food that they generously share with their young until they are able to hunt for themselves.
Male marmosets have been known to act as midwives during the birth of their babies. They also take over the care and nurturing of the infants after the first few weeks. Their male animal mother duties include grooming, feeding and carrying them when necessary.
The most important lesson that we can learn from the animal kingdom is that it’s completely natural for fathers to assume equal, and sometimes even more, responsibility for their children, as mothers.
Here you you will find more about a wonderful mother in the animal kingdom, the wolf.