Surprising Ways Animals Care For Their Young

There's probably no greater force than a parent's primal instinct to protect her child. Check out how these animals find ways to make sure their children thrive.

1. Elephants


Elephants give new meaning to the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child." The baby ends up with an entire herd of mothers, all of whom take turns watching over each other's children. The term for these other female elephants is "allmothers" and they help ensure the newborn's survival by taking the load off of its mother. It frees her up to rejuvenate and obtain enough sustenance to provide milk for her child. After carrying a nearly 300 pound baby for 22 months you'd probably need some time off, too!

2. Brown-headed Cowbirds


Mama cowbirds raise their babies with surrogates - forced ones. When a brown-headed cowbird is ready to lay eggs (which can take less than 10 seconds!) she'll deposit them in another bird's nest. She doesn't simply abandon them, though; the mother stays close to ensure that the other bird takes care of them, or else she will attack their nest.

3. Orangutans

(Flickr/ Colink)

Orangutan babies are clingy - in the literal sense. Orangutan mothers maintain physical contact with their babies for the entire first four months of its life. They never let go. Not once! The kids cling to Mom for the next five years, sometimes breastfeeding well into their sixth year of life.

4. Tamarins

(Flickr/ Schristia)

It might not take a whole herd, but in the world of tamarins, it does take a couple of men. Tamarins split the parenting duties a little unevenly, requiring the males in the group to do all of the heavy lifting once the baby is born. Tamarin females have a statistically high rate of twins, and after the hard work of birthing the tykes, both the father and another male will step in to raise them. They team up to carry the kids around and protect them, only requiring the mom to feed them on occasion.

5. Octopuses

(Flickr/NOAA Ocean Explorer)

How far would you go to protect your child? Would you starve yourself to death to help them survive? Female octopuses do. On average, an octopus lays between 50,000 and 200,000 eggs while giving birth. To ensure their survival, she'll separate the eggs into groups based upon factors like size, shape and likeliness of survival. She then dedicates the next two months of her life protecting them from predators and ensuring they get enough oxygen by pushing water currents towards the eggs. Because she is so busy keeping them alive, she doesn't have time to feed herself - so she often ends up passing away shortly after they hatch.

6. Alligators

(Wikimedia Commons)

When a female alligator gives birth to her litter, she spends the next year of her life protecting her babies from other gators looking for a snack. A lot of the time this means corralling her kids into her mouth - yep, sharp teeth and all! - to protect them.

7. Emperor Penguins


Emperor penguins go to great lengths to care for their children. After giving birth, the female emperor penguin will leave the family behind to replenish her body at sea, leaving the father to take on all of the parental responsibilities. For two months, the father will carry his egg around on his feet and forgo eating until the mother returns. When she does, she'll regurgitate some of her food for the baby, while the father takes his turn out at sea. Cooperative parenting at its finest!