Browsing through all of the Mother’s Day Facebook posts Sunday, I noticed something. Amidst the throwback photos of people with their own moms, there were several cutesy photos of moms from other species: there were koalas and polar bears, rabbits and chimps, all cuddling their offspring (there was an absence of kittens, which means that the internet’s worldwide preoccupation with feline antics may finally be coming to an end). I couldn’t resist posting a few myself — a beautiful photo I found of a female wolf with her pups was adorable, with just a dash of badass.
So much lamenting and exaltation is written around the subject of motherhood — more lamenting than exaltation, I suspect — that we often glamorize motherhood in other branches of the animal kingdom without really getting to know the facts. The “facts” being one fact: motherhood in many other species is bullocks. Here are five examples of the unfairness of non-human motherhood.
- Honeybees. The queen of a honeybee colony is kind of a trollop. She will mate with a bunch of drones in one day, which is really awkward. She will then lay 2,000 eggs on the daily during springtime for the rest of her life, [i] which sounds painful and exhausting. Baby daddy drama seems inevitable here, and I imagine a cruel, bee-scale dictatorship emerging from the queen’s beleaguered egg-laying.
- Elephants. The old adage “an elephant never forgets” is perhaps a false one. Elephants are notoriously intelligent, which has been demonstrated by numerous studies over the years. But here’s something to consider: maybe we’ve been overestimating them. Mothers carry their babies for an unacceptable twenty-two month gestation period, after which her baby is dependent on her for milk for up to six years. After all of this, most calves won’t make it to adulthood. [ii]This seems like a lot of work for nuthin’.
Octopuses. These creatures lay up to 2,000 eggs, and it’s a one-time thing. [iii] A female octopus will guard these eggs with fatigued vigilance for six months, during which time she doesn’t eat a thing (it’s doubtful that she adequately prepares for this excessive fast by wolfing down Denny’s Grand Slam breakfasts like, ahem, some of us do during pregnancy). Shortly after her babies hatch, she will die, either from exhaustion and starvation or from a predator that takes advantage of her weakened state. Granted, if you see the unbearable cuteness that is a transparent baby octopus, you would probably die too.
- Black Lace Weave Spiders. A female Black Lace Weave Spider succumbs to the appetites of her own hatchlings [iv] (do not be confused by the adorable quality of the word “hatchling”, for what is to follow is downright unacceptable). First, the hatchlings (not cute) feed on their un-hatched, slowpoke siblings. Instead of sending them to their rooms after such dramatic fratricide, a mother will willingly let her babies eat her alive. This seems like a rude thing to do to your mom, even if you are limited by baby logic. The mother will lay up to 130 eggs, so nothing about this process can be comfortable. By the way, you’re welcome for not posting a picture of one of these suckers.
Emperor Penguins. These moms are tough broads. Mating is quick and to the point for emperor penguins, and a female will lay a single egg which she will immediately leave with the dad (a questionable decision) while she journeys to find some much needed food. She will be gone for over two months, traveling an absurd distance to glutton out on anything she can catch in the sea. She then travels all the way back to her group, where she regurgitates food into her chick’s mouth. Allow me to point out that this is her way of introducing herself to her baby, who she left with dad as an un-hatched egg weeks ago. [v]During the egg and hatchling stages, baby penguins need to maintain strong physical contact with their parents so they don’t freeze to death. It only takes two minutes of Arctic nonsense to kill a baby, so moms and dads are in constant contact with their kids, which seems like a major pain in the ass. No alone time for these parents.
As wickedly hard as human motherhood is, I’m glad to be sitting pretty in the human species. I don’t have to throw up my food, I don’t have to guard a bazillion eggs, and I even have occasional downtime. This is not to say that my son has not tried with unpredictable toddler rage to eat my flesh. That happens daily.
[i] Time, “Amazing Moms of the Animal Kingdom” http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1987961_2134812,00.html
[ii] Time, “Amazing Moms of the Animal Kingdom” http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1987961_2134812,00.html
Virginia Petrucci is a freelance fiction and non-fiction writer, and a former model and actress. She has a bachelor’s degree in Theatre and English, and is pursuing further education in Psychology. She has a one-year old son named Dante.