A lot of animals deserve a Father’s day
Paternal love, in my view, gets far too little attention vis-à-vis its opposite: maternal love. Who knows about the waterbugs in which the males burden themselves with the eggs their females have attached to their backs and then left them? And what could be more misleading than the term “midwife toad” for an amphibium in which the male wraps the eggs around its hind legs and makes sure the tadpoles get into the water in time for hatching?
Male sticklebacks not only construct a cosy nest for the eggs that the female fish leave there upon visiting the male, the males also defend, clean, and fan the eggs till the babies hatch. Sea-horses and sea-needles, both species of fish with a trumpet like mouth, go a step further and brood the eggs, delivered to them by a female, in their tummy pouch. It is comical as well as touching to see Daddy sea-horse or Daddy sea-needle twist and gyrate to give birth to their tiny offspring. In the marine catfish of the genus Arius and numerous cichlid species males first fertilize the eggs and then snap them up one by one to have their mouths full of the next generation. So devoted are such fish fathers that lest they swallow one of their sons or daughters, they forsake feeding altogether until their mouth cavity has become too small to serve as a nursery for the newly hatched baby fish.
Some monkey males, too, make good fathers, giving youngsters ‘piggy back’ rides and tolerating a lot of mischief from the little ones, even (in the case of gibbons) comforting an infant by pressing it against the father’s breast. The symbol of fatherhood, a show of ultimate devotion, however, must go to a bird: he is handsome, he is tough and he is strong. Intelligent and absolutely unwavering in his commitment to his offspring, it is the Emperor penguin. For two terrible dark and bitterly cold winter months, in howling winds, this champion father stands on the Antarctic sea-ice, balancing a precious egg on its feet and tenderly covering it with a fold of abdominal skin.
Having already starved for two months during courtship prior to the incubation period, these remarkable males still manage to regurgitate some food for the chick when it hatches. Due to these fathers’ vigil, devotion and stamina, Emperor penguins are surprisingly successful breeders, despite the single egg per season per pair and the atrociously harsh surroundings. With crops and stomachs full of fish and shrimps female Emperors (I suppose one needs to call them Empresses) return after the winter to their starving partners, who meanwhile have lost half of their body weights and become so attached to their little ones that they have no intention to give them to their spouses without a bit of quarrelling. I suppose that’s reasonable and makes them even more likeable to us humans.
© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2016.
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