Moms - they're the best. But motherhood is hard no matter what species you are, and the natural world is particularly unforgiving. The single moms of the animal kingdom may have the hardest jobs on the planet, but these hardworking animal moms will always do what’s necessary when it comes to their children.
Single parent animals are not rare in nature, and most often it’s the mother who is left with the responsibility of raising her children. These remarkable animal mothers have shown just how far a parent can go to ensure the best lives for their young. Some spend years protecting their offspring, others go to elaborate lengths to make sure they have the best advantages in life, and still there are those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their babies. These are some of the toughest, bravest, and most loving mothers in the natural world.
One of the most intelligent creatures in nature, it’s no surprise orangutans would form strong bonds with their young. In the wild, orangutan fathers play no role in childcare, so the mothers have to go above and beyond the call of duty. Of all mammals, orangutans are the slowest to fully develop and gain independence from their mothers.
Much like humans, the first two years of an orangutan's life are spent as a defenseless baby that requires its mother's help to eat and move around. Throughout their youth, they are extremely dependent on their mothers, often breastfeeding until eight years of age. At age 10, they finally move on and fully embrace independence, giving their mothers a much-needed break.
These massive creatures are the largest land animals on earth, and their empathy and intelligence has made them one of the most beloved. They have complex social lives, and a maternal society that puts grandma at the top. Each family of elephants has a matriarch, and she’s usually the mother of most of the family.
Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal, and they can be pregnant for up to two years before giving birth. This extra time in the womb allows their baby's brains and bodies to become highly developed before birth, giving them an advantage in their early lives. Female calves will often stay with her mother's heard for life, while males are banished upon puberty. While mom does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to raising a calf, studies have shown that calves who have a close relationship with their grandmother have a much higher success rate than those who don’t.
Polar bears are the largest terrestrial carnivores on earth, but their ferocious appetite doesn’t make them any less loving when it comes to their cubs. Mother bears tend to give birth to two cubs, although occasionally triplets will occur. The first order of business for an expectant polar bear mother is to dig a den deep in the snow where she'll have her cubs.
Once born, a polar bear’s cubs will stick by her side for over two years, soaking up all of her knowledge about survival in one of the harshest environments on earth. She will protect her cubs with her life, often from aggressive males who have no involvement in child raising and will often attempt to cannibalize cubs. These brave mothers battle the elements and other bears to ensure their offspring have the greatest chances of success in the wild.
Kangaroos belong to a unique group of mammals known as marsupials who, unlike traditional mammals, give birth to premature young who finish their development in a specialized pouch near the mother’s belly. They have a rare ability to put their own pregnancies on hold if they decide the conditions are not perfect, basically utilizing a form of natural birth control.
Mother kangaroos raise their joeys by themselves, and the amount of children they can have at once would be overwhelming to most people. That’s because kangaroos actually have two uteruses and three vaginas, allowing them to have as many babies as possible. A kangaroo can have two babies at different stages of development in her wombs, one joey developing in her pouch, and another hopping around beside her all at once. Now that’s some serious multitasking