Christopher Michel, via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s Father’s Day, so in celebration of awesome dads across the globe we thought we would share with you some examples of wonder papas in the animal kingdom. 

Penguins

While the majority of penguins share parental responsibilities such as egg guarding, nest building and feeding the young, the male emperor penguin is a special exception. After mating during the harsh Antarctic winter, the females lay an egg and then embark on a two month hunting trip, leaving the poor fathers on their own. During this period, male emperors keep the eggs warm by shielding them from the extremely harsh weather. They don’t actually sit on the eggs, but they balance them on their feet and cover them with a piece of skin called a brood pouch. The dedicated dads also don’t eat anything during this time, but when the female finally returns with a belly full of food the parents share hunting and feeding responsibilities.

Interestingly, a study on Adélie penguins found that female penguins can actually tell which male is going to make the best dad by their courtship call. It transpires that fatter males have a more consistent pitch, so females can discern the chubsters from the more svelt males and will tend to choose the more porky penguins. This is because fatter males have more reserves to be able to endure the long fasts, and are therefore less likely the abandon the young.

Naaaaaw. Image credit: Mtpaley, via Wikimedia Commons. 

Giant Water Bug

These rather creepy looking and surprisingly ferocious insects might not look like a top candidate for best dad, but they’re full of surprises. After mating, females stick the eggs on the back of the male, and we’re not just talking a few little eggs here- there can be 150 or more at a time. Once again the female then departs, leaving the male with all the responsibilities. The males carry the eggs around for weeks, airing them and keeping them clean, until they hatch after almost tripling in size. You go gross buggy!

Giant Water Bug carrying eggs on his back. Image credit: Noisecollusion, via Wikimedia Commons. 

Seahorses

The king of chivalry has to be the male seahorse. These animals have actually switched roles with the females since it is the male that will essentially become pregnant. The female inserts a tube into the brood pouch of the male and then deposits her eggs inside. The male then fertilizes the eggs- which may be up to 2,000 at a time- and carries them around for up to 25 days until they’re ready to pop. The male even experiences muscular contractions during birth which expel the young from the pouch, but the fatherly role ends here and the teeny fry must now fend for themselves.

Very pregnant seahorse in New York Aquarium. Image credit: Jaro Nemčok​, via Wikimedia Commons. 

Marmosets

Male marmosets might have a bad rep because they really like sex, but you can’t question their dedication to the role of being a dad.

After the female gives birth, usually to twins, the male helps out with the grooming, licking and carrying responsibilities. Furthermore, it was discovered that these usually randy primates put their urges to one side whilst rearing offspring. A study conducted on marmosets a few years ago found that if males were exposed to the scent of ovulating females, testosterone levels shot up in the non-parents but remained the same in the new dads. Testosterone spikes indicate arousal, therefore the results suggest that daddy marmosets have a muted physiological response to sexually available females.

Image credit: Tomoko Ichishima, via Wikimedia Commons

Rheas

The Greater rhea is the largest bird in South America, reaching up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) in height. Rheas might be polygamous, but that doesn’t stop them engaging in fatherly duties in a big way. Male rheas build a nest on the ground and mates will come along and deposit their eggs inside every other day for up to 10 days. Since males mate with numerous females, the nest becomes pretty crowded and can hold up to 50 eggs. The male then, somehow, manages to incubate all of the eggs on his own until they hatch. He then cares for the offspring solo and aggressively protects them, charging at any potential intruders, for the first six months of life.

Image credit: LadyofHats, via Wikimedia Commons. 

Red Fox

Male red foxes not only tend to their vixens constantly so they can tend to their young, but they also act as valuable life coaches for their offspring. For the first month after the female gives birth, the father has the exhausting job of providing her with food every 4-6 hours as she must stay in the den to feed the young and keep them warm. When the offspring are older and able to walk around, daddy spends endless hours playing with the young’uns. But it’s not all fun and games-when the kiddies are around 3 months old, the father starts to teach them valuable life lessons. He will bury food under leaves and twigs around the den and encourage the offspring to find it themselves, thus teaching them how to sniff out food and forage.

*Squeeeeeeeeeee*. Image credit: John Harrison, via Wikimedia Commons. 

The Worst Dad Award

Ok, so there are some truly awesome dads out there that we can commend. In case you’re now feeling a little guilty about slacking on the parental front in comparison, here’s an example of a truly awful dad that will definitely make you feel better.

The world’s worst father prize actually goes to a close relative of one of the best dads- pipefish. Pipefish belong to the same family (the Syngnathidae) as seahorses and sea dragons. All male syngnathids are impregnated by females and then carry fertilized eggs in the brood pouch. But pipefish are really something else.

Larger, or more “attractive”, females tend to transfer more eggs to males than smaller females and more of these young tend to survive. But males are not always presented with a selection of large females, so if a male is stuck with small, less attractive females he will still mate with them; after all, beggars can’t be choosers. But here is the twisted part- just in case he comes across a more attractive female next time, the male aborts some of his developing young and absorbs the nutrients from them, effectively eating his babies so that he is better equipped with resources for round two. So there you have it- male pipefish might be very good at investing their resources, but they’re assholes.

Happy Father’s Day!

Smug little cannibal. Image credit: Steve Childs, via Wikimedia Commons. 

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