In order to celebrate Mother’s Day, and to appreciate just how much our mothers do for us, we decided to take a look at the animal kingdom, to see what mothers in the natural world are like. Konrad Lorenz argued that man is the only species that kills its own kind, but after reading this article, you'll see just how wrong he was.
We found 10 of the worst maternal role models in nature, and if there's one thing we learned it's to be grateful for our own mothers. What follows are tales of neglect, abandonment and cannibalism, as we examine 10 creatures that should not be looked to as models for motherhood. While much of this is evolutionary behavior, we cannot ignore what seems like the savage cruelty of nature -- or maybe their children forgot to get them a card and some flowers (read: you've been warned).
Read on, and be grateful you weren’t born as one of these.
#10 – Lioness
A lioness would generally be regarded as an attentive mother, and most wildlife footage will show a close-knit pride with young cubs playing, being fed and being cared for by all the mothers in the group. Largely, this is an accurate depiction of motherhood as performed by a lioness. What is never shown (understandably) is what happens when a new male takes over a pride. Any cubs of less than 2 years old are killed by the male to stop any future rivals challenging him for the pride, and also to encourage the lionesses to go into heat, allowing him to begin his own dynasty. The lionesses allow this to happen -- a cruel edge to their mothering nature.
A female house sparrow (passer domesticus) will often seek out the nest of another female that her partner has also mated with. She will then kill that female's young to remove the competition and ensure that the male spends as much time as possible helping to raise her chicks instead. While you could argue that this is in fact good mothering, as it ensures the survival of her brood, it is a particularly brutal type of motherhood. Definitely not a mother you want in your neighborhood.
Although not unique in the animal kingdom, Darwin’s frogs are interesting because it is the male that does most of the work in raising the tadpoles. The female lays her eggs, which are then carried around by the male until they are ready to hatch. Once the mother has done her part, she hops off and takes no further part in caring for the brood. This is by no means they're the worst mothers on our list, but it is perhaps fortunate that tadpoles don't have their futures ruined by this childhood trauma.
#7 - Giant Pandas
Again, perhaps this is an unexpected entry on this list as Giant pandas are generally considered to be very attentive and gentle mothers. The problem is that they are bears with especially small brains, and sometimes without meaning to they can be the very worst of mothers. Pandas usually give birth to litters of between one and three cubs. Of litters with more than one cub, only one is raised. Even then, because panda cubs are so tiny -- only 3 to 5 ounces when they're newborn -- they do not compare well with mothers who usually weigh between 155 and 220 pounds. It is also not unheard of for a mother to roll over in her sleep and crush the cub who is looking for warmth.
#6 - Cuckoo
Infamous in the animal kingdom for their method of rearing their young, the cuckoo is another example of a lazy mother. By laying her egg in the nest of another bird, she passes the responsibility of raising the chick to that other bird. The cuckoo usually hatches first, and grows faster, forcing the other chicks out of the nest, where they then die. It then gets the full attention of its adoptive parents, giving it much greater chances of survival. It is still abandoned in the first place though, making the cuckoo a worthy entrant on our list.
#5 - Dracula ants
One of the less savory forms of survival, Adetomyrma are a kind of ant famed for practicing what is called "non-destructive cannibalism." In essence, the queen of the colony gives birth to the ant larvae; she and her workers then chew holes in the larvae to feed on their haemolymph (in essence, blood-sucking). While the larvae do not die as a consequence of this, the fact that a mother allows her young to be used as a foodstuff for the colony is a sobering thought.
#4 - Galapagos Shark
If the previous entry was unpleasant for its non-lethal cannibalism, the Galapagos shark goes one step further and practices full-blown cannibalism. As viviparous or live-bearing sharks, the pups generally remain in shallow water "nurseries" in order to avoid being preyed upon by more mature sharks. When they do leave the shallow water, if mom happens to encounter her young, she will treat it as she would any other foodstuff in the ocean. Although this is clearly not a malicious act, it is nevertheless a cruel twist of fate when a mother may eat her own young.
#3 - Black bears
Here is another animal which is generally regarded as a good mother, but studies have demonstrated that this is not always the case. Black bears like to have litters of two or three cubs, as it takes a similar amount of effort to raise one cub as it does three. Because of this, it has been documented that if a black bear gives birth to just one cub, she will sometimes simply abandon it and will hope for a larger litter the following year. Unlike many animals that may abandon young which are sick or weak, the bear will abandon the youngster simply for being on its own.
#2 - African Black Eagle
Another grim example of the harsh reality of nature, and a worthy challenger for the top-spot on our top 10 bad animal kingdom mothers is the African Black Eagle. The African Black Eagle usually lays two eggs, although one is generally no more than an insurance policy. The idea of an insurance policy is quite common in the animal kingdom, but it is the manner in which the unwanted young is disposed of which is particularly shocking. The mother will feed only one chick, and as it grows stronger it will peck its weaker sibling to death. What is especially gruesome about this is that the mother will look on impassively as her youngster is dispatched.
#1 - Langur monkeys
The dubious honor of being the worst animal kingdom mother on our list goes to the Langur monkey. Having been viewed for a number of years as a non-aggressive species, more recent research has shown them to have highly complex and sometimes brutal social practices. Pitched battles, kidnapping and sexual harassment are commonplace. However, as far as mothers go, it is their willingness to abandon young who have been injured, and in some cases even kill them, which makes them the winners of our list. Abandonment, kidnapping, neglect, infanticide: These Langur monkeys are some bad mothers.