5 Excellent Moms in the Animal Kingdom That You Don’t Want to Mess With

Mother’s Day is an opportunity not only to appreciate the individuals who took on an important maternal role in our own lives, but to explore how important mothers are to the survival of species in the animal kingdom more generally. To that end, I’ve collected five diverse examples of dangerously dedicated moms whose children you do not want to mess with.

1) Mama Grizzly Bear

“Don’t get between a mom and her cubs.” Protective human mothers may allude to this species while outdoorsy types heading into grizzly country take the advice quite seriously. Mother grizzly bears (or brown bears, or Kodiak bear, if you like) are fiercely protective of their young. The life journey of all grizzlies begins when, as a small cub, they emerge from hibernation to their first ever spring. Over the course of their first year of life, mom teachers her cub or cubs how to hunt, forage, and eat all kinds of food, from roots to berries to salmon to deer. Male grizzlies will often kill an unattended cub given the opportunity, to reduce competition later, so a momma grizzly frequently has to fight off a larger male to protect her own. Spoiler alert: mom wins.

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Photo credit: Brocken Inaglory

2) Gator Mom

As a rule, reptiles are not known for providing significant parental support to their young. Many species lay their eggs and leave. But American alligators, like many crocodilian species, are quite the opposite. Like grizzlies, mother alligators sometimes care for their young up to a full year, starting from the moment they first hatch and need to be carried, in their mother’s mouth, to the water. Alligators are scary as adults, but juveniles would be easy prey without their mother’s protection. The lack of obvious parenting equipment–like a kangaroo’s pouch, a cow’s udders, a primate’s warm, furry, and loving arms–doesn’t stop alligator moms from being there for their kids. There is no safer place for these young gators than in their mother’s toothy jaws. I don’t know a better example of the statement that all you need is love.

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Photo credit: Ianare Sevi

3) Maiasaura, the Mothering Dinosaur

If alligators are surprisingly gentle and devoted parents, what about their extinct cousins, the dinosaurs? The name of this dinosaur, discovered in 1978, refers to the fact that the first fossils showed a nesting site with young that were obviously being protected and fed after hatching. This was the first species of dinosaur to be known to raise its young. Today’s birds, known for their devoted parenting style, are the last extant members of dinosauria alive today. But class aves may have inherited their hands-on approach to child-rearing from certain dinosaur progenitors, maiasaura being just one example.

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Photo credit: Nobu Tamura

4) Eight-Legged Mother Octopus

Biologists refer to two major reproductive strategies when it comes to parental involvement. K-selection species have fewer young and make major investments in each to ensure their success, while r-selection species produce huge numbers of offspring but leave them to fend for themselves, hoping just a few will survive. Most mammals use K-selection, but insects, fish, and other groups focus on r-selection, perhaps laying thousands of eggs and then leaving them to fend for themselves. Most octopuses use r-selection, with some species laying 100,000 eggs. But one deep ocean species is very much at the opposite end of the spectrum. Although it still lays about 150 eggs, more than most K-selection species, it stays with them for about four-and-a-half years, never leaving the nest, even if it starves to death by the time the eggs finally hatch. It goes without saying that any intruders that try to invade this space can expect a fight to the death.

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Photo credit: NOAA

5) Elephant, the Big Momma

That octopus mom is a tough one to top, but in terms of sheer time investment, few can compare to elephant mothers, who care for their young on a similar timescale to humans. It’s even inspired a parenting style for humans, a contrast to the tiger mom approach made famous in a similarly-titled book. Real elephant moms are pregnant for two years, nurse up to four years, and care for their young until about the age of 16. They match or beat humans on most counts. Of course it goes without saying that an elephant will defend their calves with their lives, and almost no predator can outmatch a mother elephant.

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Photo credit: jinterwas

What animal mother favorites have I missed? Sound off in the comments.

82 comments

Georgina M
Georgina M7 days ago

Humans ....could learn a lot from the animal kingdom

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer9 days ago

I'll remember

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Janis K
Janis K10 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Ruth S
Ruth S10 days ago

Thanks.

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Lorraine A

There are a lot of moms who take very good care of their little ones. Nice read...thanks for sharing.

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Roslyn McBride
Roslyn McBride10 days ago

Nice article, thanks.

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Susanne R
Susanne R10 days ago

There are also a lot of human moms and grandmas you don't want to mess with, either. We've all seen them take to the streets with or without their pink hats, carrying home-made placards and calling out their grievances until they lose their voices. You'll find a lot of them on this site, fighting to protect their children and grandchildren from being sent off to fight dirty little wars. To keep them safe from the life-threatening effects of climate change. To protect their access to a good education and good medical care and safe drinking water. To keep them safe from being gunned down in their own schools and places of worship. And to protect them from sexual abuse. Unfortunately, predators aren't limited to the animal kingdom. Fortunately, love gives us strength we never knew we had.

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Ellen J
Ellen J10 days ago

Good reading. Thanks.

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Danii P
Danii P10 days ago

Thank you

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Danii P
Danii P10 days ago

Thank you

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