Wildlife’s good mothers


Human mothers don’t hold the patent on good parenting! There are good mothers among wildlife, too. They feed their young, often at the expense of their own needs. They protect them — with ferocity, if necessary. Many play with their children. And, they do their best to teach their offspring how to fend for themselves when they reach adulthood. Like any good mother will do! So, here are some of wildlife’s good mothers. A couple of them might surprise you!

Red Fox

Red Fox mother,  Vulpes vulpes, and kit standing on a bluff overlooking a sea.

Red Fox mother, Vulpes vulpes, and kit. (Silver Leapers / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

A Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) mother dotes on her kits. She digs a den before their birth and cares for them constantly for the first two weeks. She relies on her mate to hunt and bring her food, so she doesn’t have to leave them unattended. If something happens to him, it makes life hard for her during this time, but she doesn’t abandon her young. She takes on the tasks of finding food and raising them alone.

Otherwise, both she and her mate will raise their young (usually five), teaching them how to hunt and other survival skills they’ll need. They’re also playful parents and spend time rolling around and playing chase with their kits. The male leaves in the fall. The kits leave when they’re six or seven months old, although females sometimes remain with their mother for a year.   All about the Red Fox  Foxes: frequent questions 


Two Brazilian Free-tailed Bat mothers, Tadarida brasiliensis, and numerous pups crowded together in a colony.

Mexican Free-tailed Bat mothers, Tadarida brasiliensis, and pups. (© Amanda Loller, BatWorld.org)

The Mexican Free-tailed Bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) shown here are in a “nursery” colony — only moms and their pups. No adult males allowed! Along with most other bat species, they have just one pup at a time. Pups are born hairless and they all snuggle together for warmth. Their moms are close by and move into the huddle to nurse them, sometimes sleeping there for a while. Mothers can locate their pups among hundreds, even thousands, of others — all calling for their mother — by their baby’s odor and voice. Feeding a pup consumes half the mother’s body weight each day. Each mother flies out at night to consume an estimated 1,000 mosquitoes per hour!    All about bats  Bats: frequent questions

Cottontail rabbits

Mother cottontail standing over her nest with babies suckling her teats.

Cottontail Mother feeding her babies. (Geoff Chandler / DCResource; cc by 2.0)

This is a rare photo — a cottontail rabbit nursing her kits. It’s rare because to keep them safe, a cottontail visits her kits only twice a day, usually unseen, to feed and clean them. She scraps back the grasses and leaf debris she used to cover a small nest hole she dug into the ground. She lines it with soft grasses and fur she pulled from her own body to provide insulation. After nursing, the mother covers the nest. The kits lay quietly side-by-side until next feeding time.

If you have a nest in your yard, protect it from lawnmowers by driving a wide circle of 3-foot-tall stakes around it. That’s better than fencing, which may restrict the movement of the mother and kits. It won’t be for long — they’ll leave in about two weeks. All about the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit   Cottontail rabbits: frequent questions   

Mallard Duck

Female Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos, and ducklings floating in water.

(skeeze / Pixabay; PD)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) mothers need all the rest they can get! They lay eight to 13 eggs — more than half their body weight! The mother is very protective of her young, even pretending to be hurt by squawking and flapping on the ground to draw away a predator’s attention. If ducklings scatter, she collects them back together. After they hatch, she leads them to find food. When they need rest, she tucks them under her for warmth and protection. Some ducklings will probably stay with her until the next breeding season.  All about birds  Birds: frequent questions

Northern Raccoon

Raccoon mother, Procyon lotor, and her kits. peering down from a large tree limb they're standing on.

Raccoon mother, Procyon lotor, and her kits. (Ingrid Taylar / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

Northern Raccoon (Procyon lotor) females are normally mild-mannered, but when they’re mothers, they’ll fight ferociously to protect their babies. Kits (usually three or four) are born between March and August. She guards them carefully for about four months, until they’re ready to strike out on their own. Sometimes they stay with her until she’s forced to move them out to make way for her next litter.  ) All about the Northern Raccoon   Northern Raccoons: frequent questions 

Striped Skunk

Striped Skunk mother, Mephitis mephitis, and her kits walking out of a hole in a rock pile.

Striped Skunk mother, Mephitis mephitis, and her kits. (© Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic, High Ridge, Mo.)

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) mothers raise their babies on their own. After mating, males go their own way. The mother starts teaching her young (usually five to seven of them) how to hunt at about six weeks old. She’s very protective. If her young are threatened, she may spray predators without the usual warning skunks give. Kits often stay with their mother until the next mating season. Observers report that skunks from the same litter who happen to meet up later act overjoyed to see each other again.   All about the Striped Skunk   Skunks: frequent questions  


Dolphin and small calf side by side skimming the surface of the water.

Dolphin and calf. (© Michael Daniel Ho)

As soon as a dolphin calf is born, its mother leads it to the surface for its first breath. Such a good mom, she gets almost no sleep for the first two months, to stay vigilant. Baby, on the other hand, sleeps a lot — half a brain at a time. That’s because dolphins keep one hemisphere of their brain alert, while the other hemisphere sleeps. Calves keep mom in sight by keeping their awake side next to her.


Earwig mother, Forficula auricularia, in a nest with nymphs and unhatched eggs.

Earwig mother, Forficula auricularia, with unhatched and recently hatched offspring. (Tom Oates, 2010 / Wiki; cc by-sa 3.0)

Earwigs don’t usually come to mind when we think of good mothers! Most insects lay their eggs and move on. An earwig mother, however, guards and defends her eggs, and even keeps them clean. If her eggs get dispersed, she puts them back in her burrow. After they hatch, she delivers food to her young until they can care for themselves. Earwigs are very common in yards and, except for a bad odor and a mild pinch with their long pincers if we handle them, are harmless to humans. There’s no truth to the story that they crawl into people’s ears.   All about earwigs