Best and Worst Animal Fathers

We did it for Mother’s Day—now it’s time for equal treatment. In time for Father’s Day, what are the “best” and “worst” animal fathers?

Best: Owl Monkeys

Owl monkey fathers surely rank among the best. As seen in the video below, for many months after birth, the father cares for the young ones, with mom elsewhere. (Related: “Owl Monkeys Shed Light on Evolution of Love.”)

National Geographic grantee Eduardo Fernandez-Duque is planning to study owl monkey fathers’ involvement further to research his belief that the dads help in order to save the mom’s energy for nursing—and even perhaps aid in her recovery after pregnancy. (Also see “Father’s Day Pictures: All-Star Animal Dads.”)

Best: Emperor Penguins

The emperor penguin fathers’ noble parenting skills were chronicled in the 2005 movie March of the Penguins.

Father and mother penguins share parenting duties, with dad taking the job of keeping the eggs warm in the cold Antarctic climate. To do this, the dads have to balance the eggs on their feet, covering the eggs with a flap of skin while standing in harsh, freezing temperatures and blistering winds for several months. This occurs while moms are away feeding and rebuilding their strength following egg laying. 

Best: Seahorses

Any list of great animal fathers has to include the seahorse.

Seahorse males actually get pregnant: The female seahorse lays her eggs in the male’s specialized pouch. He carries up to 2,000 babies that can stay in the pouch for as long as 25 days.

Worst: Polar Bear

The polar bear is a threatened species, with their icy habitat diminishing because of climate change. But even with the arguable need to protect this species, the polar bear males have to be included on a list of terrible father figures.

That’s because polar bear males will sometimes kill and eat young polar bears. And, though there’s no killing in the above video, the adult male has no sympathy for a hungry juvenile.

While polar bear moms give birth and spend about two-and-a-half years with the cubs, teaching them how to fend for themselves, dad has nothing to do with raising the kids. Even polar bear advocacy group Polar Bears International says that “the polar bear father’s only role is to mate with the mother. He does not help dig the den or take care of the cubs.” (Watch a video of polar bear moms and cubs.)

Worst: Gelada Monkey

Some males put juveniles of their species at physical risk. Take gelada monkeys, which, like polar bears, can be very unsympathetic to the young of their species. In the video below, a gelada monkey fighting off rival males uses an infant—not necessarily his own offspring—as a defense, harming the youngster.

Tell us—do you have any stories of good or bad animal dads?

Follow Jeff Hertrick on Twitter.

Adult emperor penguin with three juveniles. Photograph by Dafna Ben Nun, Your Shot
Adult emperor penguin with three juveniles. Photograph by Dafna Ben Nun, Your Shot





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Meet the Author
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.