Moms are heroes in any species. In many, they do not only the birthing and nursing, but also the hunting and fighting and protecting. And while human mothers certainly deserve all of the flowers and phone calls they get on Mother's Day, we dare say that there are other species where motherhood is an even more trying and/or terrifying ordeal. For instance ...
Even if you only know Tasmanian devils from the Warner Bros. cartoons, you can guess that their family life isn't a goddamned Norman Rockwell painting. Pound for pound, Tasmanian devils have the strongest mammalian bite in the world. They eat everything down to the bones, and then they eat the bones ... and then the clothes and shoes. They're mean, gluttonous little cusses who will chew through metal if the mood strikes them.
They get their training in animal badassery early, as their very first act of life is basically a Thunderdome death match that fewer than one in 10 will survive. The problem is that the mother will give birth to as many as 50 pups ... but she only has four lactation dispensaries (aka boobs) with which to feed them.
And Tasmanian devils don't share for shit. Because there are only four milk spigots, only four pups will survive. Plain and simple. As soon as they're born, there's a race to see who gets one of mommy's feeding nozzles. Whoever makes it there first and can hold on wins.
The remaining 46 starve to death within hours.
In short, nature goes through the trouble of creating 50 squirming newborns and then lets 92 percent of them die pretty much immediately for no reason other than to drive home the point that sharing is for losers.
If you like to sneak around ranches so you can secretly watch horses have sex, you've probably noticed something: After a mare gets pregnant, she immediately starts engaging in promiscuous sex with everyone. From an evolutionary perspective, this might not make sense -- she is, after all, already pregnant, so you'd think her urge for huge stallion boners would decrease. But there is a strategy at play.
Male horses don't like competition, so when they come across a foal that isn't theirs, they have a tendency to kick it to death (think about that the next time you see a bunch of horse posters in a little girl's bedroom). But they won't do it to their own kid. So mom's goal is to make it so that none of the males in the herd know for sure the kid isn't theirs ... by having sex with every single one of them.
So mamma's giving it up like a back alley hooker to protect her precious child. Is there any story more inspiring than a mother willing to sacrifice everything, even her dignity, for the safety of her offspring? But then, of course, if she's not allowed to screw every swinging dick in the pasture, she'll just go ahead and abort the pregnancy.
Yes, horses can totally do that. Though scientists aren't quite sure how this is done, it's believed to be the result of a natural chemical process within the mare if she senses that the eventual foal would be in danger from aggressive males vying for dominance. Research done on zebras showed that if even a single new male was brought into the herd, the foal's chances of survival fell to less than 5 percent. Yes, even worse than the Tasmanian devils up there.
You may be aware that male seahorses give birth -- it's one of those quirky factoids they try to hold your attention with in fourth grade science class. Well, it's the same for pipefish (who are members of the same family as the seahorse). The female passes the eggs to the male, who holds them in his belly until they grow up. It naturally makes pipefish sound like the most devoted fathers on earth. But then scientists noticed something rather odd: Sometimes babies would go missing.
To solve this mystery, scientists laced the mother with mildly radioactive amino acids. Unfortunately, the experiment was a dismal failure, because the mamma pipefish did not develop any super powers whatsoever. It did, however, let them track the eggs and find out that dad was eating them like embryonic popcorn. Now, you may say that this isn't all that weird as far as animals are concerned -- animals are stupid, after all, and one day dad probably just got hungry and was like, "Hey! Somebody left some eggs here!"
But researchers also discovered that males would eat more of the embryos of small or unattractive females. They will sometimes abort/eat up to half of the younglings of a homely mate. By restricting the flow of nutrients to the brood pouch, the babies are left to fight for the scarce resources. Only the strong survive ... and dad consumes the rest. Which only makes sense. If you're going to have ugly kids, why not just eat them before they hatch?
Science speculates that pipefish do this because they simply don't want to waste resources on offspring that aren't genetically fit (i.e., the ugly ones). So yes, they devour babies and they're shallow.
Gender is a constant source of tension among fire ants. The women do all the work around the colony, and the males are pretty much useless -- ant males don't hunt, they don't take care of the young, they don't dig and they don't fight. All they do is eat, mate and poop. But of course they are necessary for survival, because of the whole mating thing.
But having too many dudes around is a waste of resources. And that's why the worker drone ladies will pretty much just kill a dude on sight. And we don't mean on occasion, either -- the female workers embark on a systematic killing of all the males during the larval stage.
As you can imagine, this presents a problem for the queen. She needs males to propagate the species. Without the lazy, good-for-nothing sperm donors, the species would die out. How do the two sides work out a solution? In short, the queen overwhelms the colony with male eggs while the female workers slaughter as many as they can, in hopes they will eventually get tired before murdering them all. As a result, a few boys do make it through the culling, but only because mass fratricide is apparently quite draining.
So where do you find a species vicious enough to top that? Well, let's look at how the sharks do it ...
Is anyone surprised that sharks are heartless eating machines that possess absolutely no maternal skills whatsoever? Sure, they probably don't deserve the stigma as crazed serial killers who will stop at nothing to devour every person who sets foot in the ocean, but you still wouldn't want to go down and kiss one on the nose.
So before we get into the weird details, you probably assume that sharks will eat just about anything, including their own young. After all, sharks eat. It's what they do. They're eating machines. Nature lets them know this at the fetus stage by basically making them eat their own unborn siblings to survive.
You see, some sharks have live births with placentas, kind of like mammals. But others don't -- in other words, they have live babies, but don't have an organ to feed the developing fetuses. So guess where they get their nourishment.
That's right: Ovoviviparous sharks eat each other in the womb.
So these sharklets are attacking and killing each other before they're even born, but not just because they're vicious, soulless carnivores. The babies have to eat each other or they'll starve -- Mother Nature literally gave them no other choice. From their first wriggling moments of life, they find themselves in a tiny, pitch-dark enclosed place that they don't realize is about to become The Hunger Games.
There may be as many as 20 eggs starting out in two uteri, and each will hatch and live peacefully inside the mother. Maybe they all become friends. But very quickly they will develop jaws, and teeth, and they will grow hungry. They will look for food, find none, and finally realize in their tiny fetal shark brains that the only thing standing between them and starvation is their own brothers and sisters.
We can't know how painful for the mother this internal, frenzied death match is or isn't. But you'd have to think that having 20 sets of panicked, snapping shark jaws inside your belly would be a hell of a lot more than a tickle. It seems like they'd constantly be missing and biting off a big chunk of uterus instead.
Of the 20 shark babies that hatch, one from each uterus will survive to be born into the world. And each one will be one jaded son of a bitch.
For reasons you shouldn't appreciate your mother, check out 7 Things 'Good Parents' Do (That Screw Up Kids For Life) and Your Mom Lied: 5 Common Body Myths Debunked.