There are lots of ways to be a dad in the animal kingdom. But as you’ll see, we’d probably find it a bit nicer to have a dad who’s like an Emperor Penguin, rather than one who would eat you up no matter what kind of tie you get him for Father’s Day. Here’s a look at some of the Fathers of the Year in the animal kingdom… plus a few that aren’t quite as nice.
These primates are the under-appreciated dads of the animal kingdom. They tote their babies around pretty much all the time, except for when they latch onto mom to nurse.
Also, male owl monkeys are steadfast mates, according to Stony Brook University primatologist Patricia Wright. DNA fingerprinting shows that the species is truly monogamous—a rarity, given that many animals thought to “mate for life,” like swans, will occasionally dally with others. But paternity tests in the field show that an owl monkey stands by his mate and raises his own kids.
Just because they’re the poster child for fathering in the wild is no reason not to honor the seahorse dad, who is there for his young from literally day one. Seahorse conception takes place inside the male’s brooding pouch, which the female inserts her oviduct into to lay her eggs. Inside the father seahorse, the eggs are fertilized, grow, and hatch. The male seahorse’s body also maintains a higher saltwater content inside the brooding pouch, so the offspring will be pre-acclimated to living in the ocean. Seahorse fathers can give birth to broods as large as 200 babies at one time.
Though they don’t carry their babies in a womb, the male Emperor Penguin shelters his offspring from the harsh Antarctic cold with a special flap of skin that helps incubate the egg, which is also balanced on his feet. Meanwhile, the father penguin is subjected to horrific freezing temperatures and goes completely without food for weeks while the mother is off hunting for a big meal of fish to sustain the family.
A female marmoset really needs to take a load off after giving birth—she’s often carrying a baby that makes up a quarter of her body weight! Thankfully, she can rely on her mate, who steps right in to pick up the slack, grooming the newborn as soon as it’s arrived.
Baby giant water bugs are never lacking for piggyback rides; daddy giant water bugs will carry about 150 eggs on their backs (glued there by the mother) for the three weeks it takes for them to mature. By carting the eggs around on his back, the water bug dad ensures that his young will not be damaged by mold growth.
Male African lions have been observed killing cubs in the wild, and many researchers believe that infanticide is the key step in a two-pronged evolutionary strategy for when they move into new prides. If male lions kill the cubs of other males, then they don’t have to waste time raising offspring that aren’t theirs, and killing the cubs also prompts the pride’s females to go into heat.
But some researchers question whether our observations of lions in the wild really fit the popular theory. In a 1999 paper for the journal American Anthropologist, University of Waterloo researcher Anne Dagg combed through behavioral reports on lions in the Serengeti dating back to the 1960s, and found that lion cubs were actually more likely to be abandoned by their mothers, or starve to death from neglect, than to be killed by a male lion.
“Even when males do kill cubs, this behavior appears to be indiscriminate, with little evidence suggesting that it is directly linked to bringing females into estrus or to the ‘takeover’ of prides,” Dagg wrote.
Grizzly bear fathers are indisputably dangerous to cubs, especially when hungry—they’re known to kill young bears that wander into their territory, even their own. In order to avoid ravenous dads, many grizzly females are careful to select dens that are far away from males, often located in less accessible places on steep slopes.
At first, the sand goby seems like a progressive stay-at-home dad. The males of this fish species actually take over egg-nurturing duties from the females, and generally seem to do a great job, until you get to the point where he starts chowing down on his offspring. Usually, the male sand goby will eat about a third of his brood.
“We know that the males aren’t just doing this because they’re hungry — even when they have excess food, they continue to eat a really large number of their own eggs,” University of Helsinki researcher Hope Klug told LiveScience.
Klug and her team have found that male sand gobies prefer to eat the larger eggs in their brood, perhaps because they take longer to hatch, holding him up from finding new females to pair up with. Using infanticide as a way to get back into the mating game may allow him to maximize the amount of offspring he produces overall.