The most obvious fact about baby animals is that they are awfully cute – I am yet to find one that isn’t!
But they are much more than just cute: they tell us the fascinating stories of the diversity of how life starts in the wild.
Here you can find some interesting and
strange facts, often unknown, about how it all begins for many wildlife species. You can then start to understand how seemingly helpless newborns do survive.
credits: Wikicommons, David R. Tribble
Examples of life bearers: some sharks, guppies, platy fish.
most lay eggs: all crocodiles, all turtles, all tortoises, most snakes and lizards,
some exceptions having live babies include boas, vipers and certain lizards such as the blue tongue skink.
Also interestingly, Marsupials such as kangaroos and koalas, give birth to tiny young that are not bigger than a jelly bean! When the baby is born, it immediately takes on an impressive journey: it climbs unaided to the safety of its mum’s pouch, where it will further develop!
Funnily, the wombat, an Australian marsupial that is a professional digger with large underground burrows, has its pouch entry looking backward, so it doesn’t fill up with dirt!
Baby wolves are fed by their parents by regurgitation. That means after the parents have killed and fed on a prey, they come back to their pups and vomit their last meal which the pups eat.
Some baby birds have bright colour inside their mouth, or even parts that glow in the dark! A bit like bright luminous sign around their mouth to say to their parents: “Food this way, please!”
Baby koalas, called joey eat their mum’s poo. But not any poo! The poo they eat is a special one made by their mum to be full of good bacteria. Once eaten, the bacteria stay in the joey’s gut and help it digest tough leaves. The special poo is called pap.
Learn why animal poo is amazing, not disgusting, to Ecologists.
Being a new born baby animal can be very dangerous: you are naïve and clumsy, sometimes you cannot even see, hear or walk!
So animals must have strategies to protect their babies… Here are some of the most interesting!
Plovers are pretty clever birds. If the eggs or young are threatened by a predator, the mum plover starts flapping her wing like it was broken and flutters weakly on the ground, moving away from her babies…
The predator is tricked into thinking she is an easy meal, and follows her instead of hanging around her babies.
The female hornbill, a tropical bird, stays with her eggs in a tree hollow which both her and her partner block. She cannot get out!
But also, no predator get get in!
She then relies totally on her partner to feed her through a tiny hole…
Credits: Wikicommons, plate from Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary and picture from Arjan Haverkamp
Many impressive animals keep their fragile baby right in the middle of the group, so that predators can’t get to them.
This is the case for example of elephants.
Also oxens, who form a circle with the babies inside and their formidable horns outside. Not many predators would dare get close!
Some baboons have been known to kidnap dog pups.
They raise the puppy in their family. When the dog becomes an adult, it protects its adopted family against predators.
When mum sea-lions go out fishing the next meal, they leave their pups in the safety of the nursery, where all the pups are minded by a designated nanny.
Mum paper nautilus put all her eggs in a shell she makes, and guard the entrance until the babies are born.
Baby burrowing owls imitate the noise of a rattlesnake when they feel threatened. Which predator would like to mess with a rattlesnake? None! So they quickly move away…
Some babies are hiding master: a baby deer for instance, stay still if it senses danger. With its spotted coat, it’s perfectly camouflaged.
Baby deer or fawn, hiding in the bush,
credits: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Spotted hyenas are born ready to fight the world! They are fully operational small hyenas from day one, so much so that they are already able to kill – and will do so. Sadly, it’s often their own sibling that they attack first!
Cheetah cubs are born with a disguise: a mantel, or long fur on their backs, from head to tail. With this Mohawk style, they look like a dangerous animal: the Honey Badger or Ratel. No one will dare come too close…
Baby cheetahs with their mantel,
credits: Wikicommons, Chuck Bargeron, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Newborn baby animals cannot always walk or do so safely, so some parents have clever strategies to move their babies around.
Here are a few of them…
There is an entire group of animal that found a very clever way of transporting babies around: a pocket!
Of course, these are the marsupials: mums of kangaroos, koalas and many more have a pouch on their belly. It’s pretty comfortable too, with milk on tap.
Less well known is the marsupial frog: frogs from this group carry eggs or tadpoles in pouches too.
Joey kangaroo in its mum pouch - Remark: only female marsupials have pouches, forget what you saw on "Skippy"
Baby koalas, once they leave the safety of their mum’s pouch, still stay with her for a few months. Too big to fit in the pouch, too small to climb trees, they have to hold on tight to mum’ back.
Other baby animals such as monkeys, lemurs and gliders will have to hold even tighter as their mum jumps and glides from tree to tree!
Yet baby bats of the flying fox family have it even harder: they have to hold on to mum while she is properly flying around!
Mum crocodiles watch closely as their babies hatch from the nest they have protected while the eggs were developing. When the babies hatch, mum picks carefully the little crocodiles with her mouth, in a special pouch, and carries them to the river. Pretty amazing considering the power of a crocodile jaw, to see how gently she does it!
There are other animals who found that having their babies in their mouth is pretty safe way to carry them around. These animals are called mouthbrooding. Frogs and fish use their mouth to that purpose, and they have to stop feeding for the whole time their babies are in their mouth.
Even more extreme, the gastric-brooding frogs (sadly now extinct) were carrying their unhatched eggs inside their stomach! The eggs, covered in a substance that literally put the stomach asleep, were swallowed by the mum. Later, tadpoles were regurgitated. Again mum could not eat for the duration of the baby development.
It often the mum of baby animals that is the most dedicated parent, but they are some pretty amazing dads around too!
Dad sea horses are given eggs from the mums to incubate in a pouch in their belly! They carry the eggs until they hatch, then give birth – with contractions and all – to live baby sea horses. Pretty amazing when you think they can give birth to up to 2000 babies! Dad will protect them until they fend for themselves.
The giant water bug too carries his babies. Insect don’t have a great reputation in terms of parenting, but this dad has eggs glued to his wings to keep them safe until they hatch.
Giant water bug - also called Toe Biter - carrying eggs
credits: Wikicommons, AaronY
Marsupial frogs carry their young in a pouch. In the Australian marsupial frogs, the male carries the tadpoles until they are fully developed frogs.
In another marsupial frog, although the female will carry the eggs, the male is in charge of the transfer of the eggs into her pouch.
The Arowana fish is a really good dad: he is a mouthbrooder, which means he carries his babies into his mouth to transport and protect them.
The most amazing talent of the Arowana fish is that he leaves the babies out to explore the area when safe, then remember how many babies he has to gather back at the end of play time. Not a small achievement when you have around 100 babies! And around he goes, collecting them one by one, back to the safety of his mouth.
Dad emperor penguins have a very tough job. After producing a single egg, mum penguin needs to go back to see to get food. The problem is the see is far away, and dad will need to protect the egg for two month in glacial conditions: freezing temperatures and 200km/h winds.
Dad needs to balance the egg on his feet at all time. If the egg touches the ground, it will freeze and crack immediately, killing the chick inside.
All of it while not eating.
Other good bird dads include the Rhea. This large, flightless South American bird of the Ostrich family can incubate up to 50 eggs for 6 weeks! Dad rheas also build the nest and raise the chicks with no mother to be seen.
Other birds of the family such as the Cassowaries and Emu in Australia see dads being the single parent: they sit on the eggs and raise the chicks on their own.
Baby cassowary with Dad
The Marmosets, a small primate of South America, have often dads very involved with the young. They carry their babies and groom them, bringing them to mum only for a feed.
Dads of Namaqua sandgrouse, an African bird, are flying up to 80 km a day to find a drink for their babies. They soak their chest feathers with water and fly back so their young can have a drink by sucking on the wet feathers!
Once they are born, small turtle hatchlings are on their own. They must find their way to the sea. They are not shown the way by any adult, and follow the moonlight reflected from the sea.
Baby Sea Turtle, credits: Wikicommons, Wildlifeppl at en.wikipedia
The sandtiger shark has babies that eat each other before they are even born! Usually the two strongest babies eat all the others of the litter while still inside their mum!
In a similar way, Tasmanian devils have a tough first hours. Mum has around 30 babies, yet only 4 will make it to the safety of the pouch and get milk.
Giraffe also have one of the hardest welcome to the world. Mum giraffe have their calf standing, which means a pretty high fall for a newborn baby. Apparently their elastic umbilical cords helps slow the fall, but still…
Who is the heavier baby?
On land the heaviest baby is the elephant at 90 to 120kg. That’s a big baby!
This is dwarfed by the heaviest baby in the water, the blue whale, with a 3 tons newborn.
Who is the tallest baby?
Just as you would expect, the tallest baby is the giraffe at 1.8m.
Which mammal has the shortest pregnancy?
The bandicoot, an Australian mammal, with 12 days.
Baby bandicoot and mum in the wild
Which mammal has the longest pregnancy?
The elephant, with 22 months.
What’s the baby’s name?
We all know how cute baby animals are, I hope now you also find them amazing!
How life begins and how such small helpless creatures can survive is one of the most fascinating topic in Natural History.
Such diversity and complexity reminds us once more why we need to fight for our wildlife, so that the extinct stomach-brooding frogs that you now know about is not followed by more extinctions!