Yesterday we showed the love to some of nature’s warm and fuzzy mothers, today it’s a trip straight to the dark side: nature’s meanest mommies. You thought Joan Crawford was bad? “No wire hangers” is nothing compared to the schemes some mothers in the animal kingdom have devised. With plot lines that make Shakespeare’s most sadistic seem sweet, many a mom in nature resort to abandonment, infanticide (often by eating their young, nice), adultery, and murder. That’s a bad mommy. Although to be fair, they really don’t know any better–these are all behaviors developed through evolution to ensure the longevity of the species. It’s a matter of species survival trumping maternal instinct. Still, cannibalism? I think I’m grateful I’m not the runt of a hamster litter–or better yet, a hamster mom…
So in celebration of Mother’s Day and all the lovely things our mothers have done for us–like, not eating us–here’s a rogues’ gallery of some of nature’s seemingly most sinister matriarchs.
Hamsters are darling–furry, cute, cuddly…and notorious baby-eaters. Yikes. According to the all-things-hamster site hamster-zone.com, first-time hamster moms may be so shocked by the whole situation that they feel threatened by the new arrivals and simply eat them to remove the threat. Now that’s a novel solution. Also, first time mothers can produce pups that are undersized or abnormal, thus causing the mother to reject and possibly eat them–or the mother may be craving extra nutrients after giving birth, and if they aren’t provided any other way she’ll snack on her young.
If infant hamsters are handled by humans before they reach two weeks of age, the mother may reject the pup, causing her to ignore or…yes, eat them. It’s also believed that this behavior has to do with making sure there’s enough food around to feed the number of pups born. A larger litter than is manageable is often born–but then the mother needs to decrease the litter size to ensure there will be enough food for the the rest.
One bit of advice to female house sparrows: watch your backs, girls. Male sparrows, known for their randy polyamory, mate with a variety of females–and like any raging two-timed female, mommy house sparrows don’t take too kindly to it. Female house sparrows will often seek out the nest of another female that her partner has mated with, and will then proceed to kill that female’s young–removing the “competition” to ensure that the male spends as much time as possible helping to raise her babies instead. Ultimately she is doing right for her own offspring, but, so much for the step-daughters.
Not all animals mothers are cold-hearted killers, but the passivity of the otherwise assertive lioness is a bit surprising. Most wildlife images portray the lioness as a protective and caring mother, which she generally is. The problems begin when a new male takes over a pride. With a new stud on the scene, mommy lion turns a blind eye to any cubs under the age of 2 years old. The new male kills the cubs 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. Such is the cost of becoming queen.
The burying beetle is not a bad mom because of the home and food she provides her young: larvae typically move into a mouse carcass their mother has buried, and the mother feeds her young by eating the carcass and regurgitating the mouse meat. No, it’s not the dead mouse house and dead-mouse-vomit for dinner, but rather what happens during feeding. The larvae beg for food and the mom feeds them, but the one left last in line? Yep, mom eats it. It’s likely that the beetle mothers are thinning their brood to meet the food supply, as the beetles typically produce more offspring than the carcass can support. That’s some diet for the female beetle–aged mouse meat and baby beetles.
India’s sacred monkey, the hanuman langur, was generally considered to be a relaxed and non-aggressive species–that is until research from Harvard showed that the langur society isn’t averse to kidnapping, constant sexual harassment, group battles, abandonment of the young by their mothers, and the regular practice of infanticide. Such wickedness! As the strongest males compete for control of each troop, the winner tries to bite to death the young offspring of his predecessor. The mommy monkeys allow the infanticide, then present themselves to the new ruler for mating. Very Roman.
What? Giant panda? I know, but it’s true. In the wild, a mommy giant panda does much better investing her resources into raising only one baby, but she often bears two. Here we have what one naturalist refers to as “quality control”–mom favors the stronger-seeming offspring, and leaves the weaker one to wither in the wild.
Many a human mother will encourage her kids to work out their difference between themselves–the black eagle mom takes it to another level. Black eagle siblings are known for their violent squabbles, which often turn deadly. What’s a mom to do? Use a time-out? How about just sit there and watch one sibling murder the other. Although I guess you can’t blame mom, the kids are practicing behavior seen in many bird species–decreasing the family to help to allocate food resources and ensure the survival of the fittest eaglet.