Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
Close up of skink and baby skinks

This blog comes from Laura Penner, Natural Heritage Education Leader at Rondeau Provincial Park.

As a naturalist and mother of three, I find great joy in catching rare glimpses of wildlife caring for their young.

This looks very different from species to species. It could be a female oriole meticulously weaving grass into an intricate basket-shaped nest, or a map turtle excavating test nests throughout an entire campsite until she finds the perfect soil composition.

Each species has its own unique way of raising its young that best suits the challenges of its environment. Let’s take a look at some interesting ways wildlife care for their young.

Challenges of Parenting in the Wild

Cow and calf elk in the forest

When it comes to wildlife, many different strategies are used to ensure the success of the next generation.

Raising young requires a great deal of energy. Any parent knows this applies to humans too!

Many factors come into play when determining the optimal level of energy to devote to raising offspring. These factors may include environmental conditions, predation rates, individual lifespan, and clutch size.

Hands-off parenting

Turtle in the mud

Many species of insects and reptiles use a “put in and out” strategy. They find the best possible place for their eggs and then let them hatch on their own.

In the case of many of our freshwater turtle species, it is the careful choice of nesting site that will eventually determine the sex of the newborn turtles.

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This has to do with the temperature of the nest. The eggs found deeper in the nest hole will become males, while those found at the top of the nest will become females.

In these situations, a large number of eggs are typically laid to compensate for the high rate of predation on vulnerable offspring.

active parents

Male water bug with eggs on its backPhoto: Flickr user noisecollusion, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other species play a more active role in ensuring those precious eggs survive long enough to hatch.

Meet the giant aquatic insect. This large insect lives up to its name and reaches a length of 2.5 centimeters or more. You may have encountered them if you’ve ever explored the shallow waters of a swamp, pond, or stream. These predatory insects spend most of their lives in the water, but can also be seen circling streetlights during mating season.

Giant water bugs are known to eat anything from small fish to frogs and insects of all sizes. They do this by injecting enzymes into their prey’s body, which basically turns its insides into a sticky substance!

When it is time to lay her eggs, the female sticks them to the male’s back. This offers the perfect protection against predators. Males also prevent the eggs from molding by swimming and occasionally allowing the eggs to dry in sunlight.

How to father skinks

Close up of skinks and baby skinksPhoto: Dan Brazeau

The eastern five-lined skink is not only Ontario’s only lizard, but also another species that chooses to expend more energy to ensure its eggs are well protected until they hatch.

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These brightly colored lizards will lay their eggs under rotting logs, in compost piles, or under debris. They do so in groups of two or three other females that lay eggs; After all, there is safety in numbers!

Females will help protect the eggs from predators, carefully rotate them, and even urinate on them to maintain the proper humidity level. If any eggs go bad, the female will quickly eat them to ensure the remaining eggs remain healthy.

predatory parents

Ducks and ducklings in the water.

For many predatory species, more time and energy is spent raising the young and teaching them behaviors that will lead to their future success.

Common Mergansers are large, streamlined diving ducks and a top predator in many aquatic habitats in Ontario. Their toothed beaks allow them to catch the fish that make up the majority of their diet.

In the case of the common merganser, the males will leave the incubation site shortly after mating. This helps ensure that your mate and future offspring have less competition in the feeding grounds. The mother takes the young to the water and watches over them as they hone their instinctive hunting skills.

Loon mom and chicks

Nature has many lessons for those who take the time to observe, listen and learn. In this case, we see that families are unique and diverse. Although these animals raise their young very differently than we do, in the end we all work toward a similar goal.

Take time to get outdoors with your family and learn about nature. You’ll be surprised what it can teach you!