Seahorses tend to roam shallow, tropical waters all over the world. Few animal fathers are as crucial to their offspring’s existence as the male seahorse. First, a male and a female engage in an entrancing courtship dance for up to eight hours, which ends when the female deposits her eggs into the male’s pouch. The male then fertilizes the eggs. After the eggs hatch, the babies stay in dad’s pouch until they get acclimated to salt water. After 10 to 25 days, the new father undergoes contractions and ejects the babies from his pouch. Nature’s Dad of the Year award for: giving birth!
Recent fossil evidence suggests that the adult males of some dinosaur species brooded their offspring’s eggs, at least part of the time. Various species, such as the oviraptor and the troodon, were found fossilized while brooding eggs, and the composition of the adults’ bones suggests that they were male. Researchers from Montana State University speculate that the priorities of some dinosaur mothers transitioned from primary care to gathering food and laying more eggs, resulting in the need for other, at least part-time, incubators – males. Nature’s Dad of the Year award for: giving mom dinos a much-needed break.
Darwin’s frogs are an endangered species found in Chile and Argentina. The paternal care of Darwin’s frogs is perhaps the strangest in all of nature: After reproduction, and right before the frog eggs hatch, the father swallows them, diverting them to a water pool in his vocal sac. The water pool serves as an incubator of sorts. The tadpoles stay there for around 60 days, gradually developing into fully formed (but small) frogs, at which point the father “sets them free” in a nearby stream. Nature’s Dad of the Year award for: swallowing their pride…and then regurgitating it.
The California mouse is found in northwestern Mexico and southern California. Few male mammals play major roles in their offspring’s survival, but the California mouse is a notable exception. Not only that, but these mice are entirely monogamous, another rarity in mammals. The female California mouse, after giving birth, releases a chemical in her urine which induces her mate to care for their babies, or “pups” – an ability liable to make human women quite jealous. The male and female then dutifully share the burden of building nests, feeding, and warming the offspring. Without a male, the offspring’s survival is compromised – not both parents can be present at all times, for one must occasionally leave to gather food. Whether or not chemically induced paternal care is worthy of praise is up to the reader to decide – but among mammals, the California mouse father is certainly noteworthy. Nature’s Dad of the Year award for: willingly or not, being there for the kids.
Barbary macaques, found in Gibraltar and the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco, are matriarchal and polygamous, and the rearing duties of all offspring fall to the males. However, the social import of this practice goes beyond mere care: an adult male toting around one or more infant macaques (regardless of whether or not they are his offspring) signals to other males his power and status, and also to some extent signals to females his worth as a capable mate. In the societies of Barbary macaques, the males compete with one another to prove themselves the best, or most capable, dad. Nature’s Dad of the Year award for: taking parenting so seriously it becomes a point of pride.
Giant Water Bug
Another notable, odd example of paternal care is that of giant water bugs. They are found all over the world in freshwater streams and ponds, and are typically over two centimeters in length. A female will lay her eggs on a male’s wings, and the male carries the eggs until they are ready to hatch – a disturbing sight, but an impressive example of paternal care. Until they do hatch, the father occasionally behaves as if he were trying to rid himself of his burden, but in actuality he is ensuring that they remain clean and fungi-free to ensure a healthy and successful delivery. Nature’s Dad of the Year award for: carrying the weight.
The male great hornbill is another dedicated, protective father. Great hornbills are found in India, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Nepal, and surrounding areas. In courtship, males sometimes battle and clash into one another mid-air, and the victorious male wins the favor of a female. After mating, and just prior to laying her eggs, the female will find a tree hollow where she can settle in and care for the eggs – one or two, usually. Next, the male will gather feces to seal possible points of entry and ensure that the female is safe and secure from predators. Yet he will leave a small opening where he can deposit gathered food. The female stays in the tree hollow for over a month until the young hornbill is ready to venture out into the outside world. Given the required homebuilding materials, and the dedication to providing sustenance, the male great hornbill is quite an impressive father. Nature’s Dad of the Year award for: helicopter parenting.
Wolf packs are known for their similarity to human nuclear families – perhaps not to modern families, but to ancient, nomadic families. After mating, the female undergoes a two- to three-month long pregnancy, and after birth she remains with her pups in the den. During this period, the father will go explore for food, and when he returns he regurgitates some of it to feed his new pups. The father will continue to do so for about three weeks, or until the pups are ready to leave the den. The family typically remains together, sometimes forming larger packs with other wolves, and all work together to raise their collective offspring and develop their fitness in the wild. Nature’s Dad of the Year award for: vomiting out of love.
Last, but not least, we must honor human fathers. Typically, the adult male human engages in lengthy courtship endeavors, competing with scores of other males for a female. These courtships can last for years, and are not guaranteed success. Once a female accepts a male as her mate, and once they have mated, the female undergoes a nine-month long pregnancy. During the pregnancy, the father will sacrifice himself to the mother’s requests, offer moral support, and attempt to maintain a positive atmosphere. At birth, he will be by the mother’s side, and will immediately begin caring for the child when the mother needs a respite. Around this stage, human fathers begin to change: behaviorally, physiologically, and emotionally. They may undergo hormonal changes: prolactin levels can rise, inexplicably, and testosterone levels tend to decrease. They may feel strongly for their newborn child, and feel that previously thoughtless risk-taking behaviors are no longer worth the thrill. As the baby grows, the mother and father provide it with a bed, feed and nurture him/her, maintain hygiene, and much, much more. The father will do his best, with the mother’s help, to ensure that their child grows into a capable, and eventually independent, young adult. When the child reaches that stage, he/she will come to appreciate his parents’ extensive efforts in his/her creation and sustenance, and will partake in an annual day of celebration and gratitude. This weekend, we celebrate the human father. Thanks, Dad – and a Happy Father’s Day to all fathers. Nature’s Dad of the Year award for: being the only dad you’ve got.