Changing Planet

Best and Worst Animal Mothers

Best and Worst?

Mother’s Day¬†is generally reserved for honoring our mothers, wives, and even grandmothers. But since we are National Geographic, why not take some time to honor animal mothers who excel at raising their young? And while we’re at it, why not point out other animal mothers who could use some coaching to do a better job?

Australia’s grey kangaroo moms are an obvious choice for “Best” mother, carrying around their little ones in pouches for nearly a year. But you may not know that they are worthy of a “Worst” nomination, too. Because, at their most vulnerable stage, the tiny newborn, no bigger than a jellybean, is expected to crawl from the uterus to the external pouch entirely on its own, with absolutely no help from mom! (see video above)

Good Mother

Polar bears have gained a lot of attention due to dwindling habitats caused by melting snow and ice in the Arctic region. In the next video, you’ll see how snow and ice are a major part of raising cubs: from helping to conceal their lair for a 5-month long hibernation, to enabling them to hunt and catch their meals.

It’s rough early going for the newborns. About half of polar bear cubs don’t make it through the first year.

BTW, if you like cute, you’ll like this video.

Bad Mother

How about a mother that raises her kids inside a corpse? That might be bad enough, but worse yet, the burying beetle also eats its offspring, depending on whether there’s enough food for the entire family.

These beetles prepare the corpse, often a rodent, for their offspring to use as food. The mom preserves the meal by secreting chemicals over the dead body to prevent it from spoiling, turning the corpse into a well-stocked fridge to feed their offspring. (video below)

Good Mother

The walrus female could be classified as a “world-class” mother. Even though a baby weighs a hundred pounds at birth, mom gives plenty of nurturing love, providing milk for up to two years. The calf gains weight at the rate of about a pound-and-a-half a day.

One of the mother’s most important tasks is teaching the young one how to pull all that weight out of the water. But when they’re in the water, motherly love takes on a human-like characteristic: lots of hugs. (at the end of video).



Jeff has been a Senior Video Producer with National Geographic for over 10 years. He manages day-to-day operation of National Geographic's online video player and writes, produces and narrates videos. A video news journalist for more than 25 years, his previous experience includes Senior Producer for Discovery Science Channel, Executive Producer for a regional cable news channel, and News Director, News Anchor, Producer and Reporter for several local network affiliates in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Washington, DC and West Virginia.
  • Jennifer

    Oh dear. So for Mother’s Day I’m going to send my mom a video of dead rodents and corpse beetle vomit? Maybe not. You couldn’t like just do “ducks” as Bad Mothers, eh?
    (Yes, yes I know. Circle of life, etc. But jeepers — not much of a celebration there!) ; )

  • Susan Dell

    this is terrific. . thank you!

  • Rajkumar Oberoi

    The study is worth sharing with friends but if method used can be shared will encourage to learn & practice by individuals in their observations.

  • Abu Jafar Khaled

    It is just very good.

  • Kathleen Malone O’Connor

    Unfair to portray the beetle as “bad mother”–she’s just doing her job taking care of her babies and recycling the earth The insects all are nature’s recyclers–we’d be knee deep in corpses without them

  • Jeff Hertrick

    Good point, Kathleen! While to us, an animal corpse would be a disgusting place to live around, or even touch, to the burying beetle larvae, its probably like human children living with a giant pile of milk chocolate where they could take a sample anytime they’re hungry.

  • liezel h. fulgueras

    that’s right! nature is one of our best teacher/example of maternal care…

  • Christina

    Not what I’d expect from National Geographic. Labeling a critically endangered species a ‘bad mother’?! I thought you were supposed to be conservation stewards. Looks like we have a ‘bad journalist.’

  • Carrie

    I am incredibly disappointed that National Geographic would characterize any animal as a “bad mother”…what a terrible message. Especially considering the American Burying Beetle is one of the most endangered species of insect in North American AND one of the best parents in the insect world! The parents stay with their larva and feed them like birds feed their babies…when the larva is too young to chew on their own, they stroke the parent’s mandibles and they chew the food for them! Shame on you National Geographic…why not just celebrate the good in all of Earth’s animals? Why put any down? The American Burying Beetle has it bad enough without your negative article.

  • Aaron Goodwin

    I’m with Kathleen on the burying beetle sentiment. A beetle whose parents often work together to prepare food for their offspring, and knows to cull the excess in order to ensure that enough survive to pass along their genes? That is an AMAZING mother! And in the case of the endangered American burying beetle, the parents will even feed their young until they’re able to feed on their own. Still want to use the “corpse” angle to call these beetles bad mothers?? ūüėČ

  • Jeff Hertrick

    Notwithstanding the corpse domicile, the burying beetle certainly can carry the “bad” mother label for actually eating some of its offspring, as described here (and linked above):

  • ranjitbees

    Great Work

  • Shira Richter

    It’s super interesting to do a piece on mothering, fathering, allo mothering and parenting in nature, however, I’m with Christina, Carrie and Kathleen on the – Hey Jeff, what’s with this judgmental attitude? I didn’t notice any judgmental tone regarding the polar bear males killing off the babes…and where is the kangaroo and polar bear male anyway? In any case, as a research artist whose works centers on the politics of motherhood, parenting and gender identities- National Geographic- please do some preliminary research before rushing to such simplistic and categorizing assumptions!

  • Nate

    @Shira: Did you really just tell National Geographic to do some research? hahahaha

  • McSuave

    Haha this article is for fun! Stop calling Jeff out because something that eats it’s young or whatnot is endangered! It’ not like because of this article it’s going to go extinct!

  • Joshua Glant

    I’ve always known that female killer whales (orcinus orca) were especially intimate and intelligent mothers. Among the fish eating resident pods of the Pacific Northwest, the whales live in a matriarchal society; resident pods are composed of many matrilines (descendants through the female orcas.
    Killer whales, more popularly known as orcas, are dolphins (odontocetes). When a calf is born, a the entire pod starts to care for it, very especially its mother. The cow gives it milk and teaches it vital skills of social life and survival; mother and offspring stay together for life, and female orcas live longer than males by a good 15-20 years. Female killer whales exhibit menopause, where they stop producing offspring, so there is an extremely tight motherly bond until the end of their days.
    Throughout its young life, and commonly even in its adult years, an orca will sat between 2-3 body lengths of its mother, unless feeding or socializing; if the mother is away, then an another cow will take its place, like a human babysitter. The mother and calf are constantly rubbing, nudging and hugging with their paddle-like flippers affectionately, and in this way they keep a very friendly, familiar lifestyle, at least in the bonds of family and friends among the other whales.
    If the orca is male, it will stay with its mother and occasionally leave her side to mate, socialize with other, or explore its marine environment; if it is female, she will keep close to the mother and raise her own calves, always accepting aid from the watchful mother cow. In this way, orca cows are among the most exceptional mothers in the animal kingdom.

    Ravens, on the other hand, follow a different path: also highly intelligent creatures, Common Ravens (corvus corax), part of the Corvus genus of bird, hatch in February throughout most of their range; as an altricial bird (think of a robin hatching in a nest), ravens are reliant on their parents until they cover their pink, wobbly bodies with sturdy feathers and grow strong.
    After they leave the nest, they typically have another six months to learn survival and social skills, roost near their parents, and accept food from them before they are kicked off their parent’s home range, usually in late June or early July. They then join big flocks and scavenge in groups until they find a mate for life, settle down in a home territory, and start the cycle over again. Ravens are considered by some not to be the best animal parents, but my personal opinion is that their parenting is sufficient for these special birds; ravens have a life filled with adventure of a new world and environment, and they are known even to play with others. In this way, ravens are also quite good parents.

    American black bears (ursus americanus), in the genus Ursus are born in the winter, sheltered in the warmth of a den, and they suckle from their sleeping mother bear; after a period of 28-40 days, they open their eyes, and their characters soon emerge. When springs comes to the outside world, the mother claws open (or simply exits) the den. As among orcas an d ravens, black bear cubs learn vital skills from their mothers; the father plays no part in raising young bears, and may even attack them. After 18 months or so, the cubs grow strong enough to become independent and go off to make a living in the forest. Like ravens, bears are not considered by some not to be the best of animal mothers, but I think they are.

    These three animals are considered to be among the most intelligent of creatures. They are lso among the best animal mothers.

    Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

  • McSuave

    Personally I enjoyed this informative article and had some fun learning about, OH NO DON”T SAY IT, IT”S ENDANGERED! “Bad Mothers!”

  • Joshua Glant

    PS I don’t think that “best” and “worst” animal mothers is the fairest description; animals raise their young in a way that is particularly successful to the species’ survival; however, I understand that such a comparison could be acceptable in this context.

    Good night, everyone!

  • Agnes

    Like or dislike, there is Bad and Good Mother..
    Even animal has to choose what kind of mother they would be.
    Nature is one of the best teacher for us..!!

  • Ixchel Jaguar Goddess

    Leave it to a man to project his narrow cultural attitudes on mother nature. Even if the female beetle does consume her offspring for survival purposes, she is the one who reproduces them to begin with. In Nature, there is no such thing as good or bad, there is genetics, biology and ecology. All animals species, especially the females, demonstrate a high level of intelligence that seems to be increasingly degenerating among many human cultures.

  • Janet butler

    In the animal world, there is no such thing as a bad mother or father. It’s purely instinct. The survival of the fittest, to carry on the line. I often watch my wild birds bringing up their babies, if they overstep the mark, one of the parents, pecks them to teach and warn them, parents know best. If they continue, they are usually killed. It’s a harsh world in the animal kingdom to survive. They’re doing their best, despite us driving so many to extinction.

  • Sasury

    Todos son Geniales. Claro me sorprendió un poco el del escarabajo. Pero aun así. Son geniales. ^^

  • Jason

    I enjoyed the article, but the comments section was a total hoot! I’m continually amazed at the things Americans will fight over! Who knew the burying beetle was such a hot topic! #peoplewhotakethemselvestooseriously

  • Nib

    Seriously??? (It kills its offspring.) Peoples response ‘Its not a bad mother that’s good parenting because its endangered.’ Critical thinking just went out the window. Its a bad mother for murdering its offspring. There is no argument. It may be endangered but that would be like calling a mass murderer a good person because he is the last of a genetic line. XD People crack me up.

  • Zack

    The nile croc needs to be in the best mother catagory. The father and mother stick around while they carey them in a small pouch in the bottem of there mouth to a neer by water hole so they can teach them how to hunt. During the mothers teaching them the father is watching for prediters.

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