Every year on the third Sunday of June, the world celebrates Father’s Day, an annual global event honoring fathers and their vital role and influence in society. While their importance is recognized and appreciated every day, this special day serves as a reminder to recognize and respect all fathers’ relentless work and sacrifices for their families.
Some of the characteristics that have come to be associated with human father figures like strength, dependability, dedication, and compassion, can also be found in fathers of the animal kingdom. Some animal fathers, like their human counterpart, go to great lengths to protect and nurture their offspring.
While these characteristics may be found in males of several animal species, some super-dads stand out for going for the seemingly impossible for their children. Fathers may help ensure that their genes are passed down to the next generation—and the next—by improving the chances of survival of their offspring.
These wonderful creatures take parenting seriously and always step up when it comes to taking care of their children, from pregnant papas to aggressive fathers. So, in no particular order, here is our toast to the most loving fathers of the animal species.
Male marmosets in South America are among the best animal fathers. Marmoset fathers are said to be wired this way due to the high expense of birth for the mother. Because baby marmosets are approximately 25 per cent of their mother’s body weight, giving delivery can be a life or death situation. For mom marmosets, pregnancy and giving birth drains their vitality, therefore their offspring’s survival depends on their father’s participation. They not only carry, feed, and groom their twin babies, but they also groom and clean the newborns during delivery, acting as midwives. If that isn’t romantic enough, consider this: a marmoset daddy doesn’t even look at another female once his pups are born. (Bryan Nelson, Nature’s 10 Best Animal Dads, Tree Hugger, 11 May 2022)
Flamingos, like other birds, mate for life, but their monogamous devotion to their partner is all the more astonishing given that they congregate in the thousands. Male flamingos assist their female partners in selecting nesting places and constructing mud nests before they lay eggs. The fathers share responsibility for incubating the eggs once the eggs are laid, taking turns sitting on the nest for equal lengths of time. All parental chores are handled equally once the flaminglets are born. The fathers even give the chicks milk—not mammalian milk, but crop milk, which is fat- and protein-rich milk released by the flamingos’ crop (an expansion of the esophagus used for storing food). (Science Insider, Most Impressive Dads in the Animal Kingdom, Youtube, 22 November 2018)
Emperor Penguins is one of the best fathers out there because of his sheer perseverance and passion. The female Emperor Penguin is so short on energy and nourishment after depositing just one egg that she sets out to sea for two months to refuel. During this time, the sole task for caring for and nurturing the child lies exclusively on the father, who excels at it. In subzero temperatures, the father keeps the egg warm by scarcely eating or moving until the chick hatches. And when it does, the father feeds it its first meal, crop milk (exactly like the flamingos!) until the mother arrives with hunted solid food. (Science Insider, Most Impressive Dads in the Animal Kingdom, Youtube, 22 November 2018)
South American Greater Rhea Birds
The Greater Rhea bird from South America is one of the animals in the running for Father of the Year. In most birds, moms are in charge of kid care, but the Rhea bird is the polar opposite. The male Rhea bird is in charge of building a nest that contains the eggs of several distinct female Rhea birds. The mother Rhea leaves after depositing her eggs, whereas the faithful father stays with his nest for 42 days to maintain and incubate the eggs. After the chicks hatch, dad Rhea devotes his entire attention to the 50 or so newly hatched young ones. The Rhea father is known for being fiercely protective of his children, and at 88 pounds and 5 feet tall, he is an intimidating bodyguard. Scientists believe that this species’ parenting roles have been reversed because the moms devote so much effort into laying the enormous eggs, leaving the father to handle the remainder of the parental duties. (Science Insider, Most Impressive Dads in the Animal Kingdom, Youtube, 22 November 2018)
Seahorses are among the most fascinating animal fathers, which is why they are constantly at the top of the Father’s Day wish list. The ideal catch might be a male seahorse. They are not only capable of becoming pregnant and brooding eggs in their pouch, but they are also monogamous, meaning they mate for life. The way it works is that the male seahorse will woo his lady with an intricate dance that ends with their tails intertwined. The eggs are actually sent through a tube into a pouch by the female. The male fertilizes the eggs inside the pouch and keeps them safe for two to three weeks, depending on the species. And, like any good father, he keeps an eye on the salt levels in his pouch to make sure they match the surrounding environment and keep the baby seahorses safe. Male seahorses can give birth to up to 2,000 babies throughout their 25-day pregnancy! Daddy seahorses will proudly flaunt their expanding stomachs to each other until their baby seahorses are born. (Eric Luis, Dads of the Animal Kingdom Who are Truly the Best, Weird Nature, 23 September 2021)
A saltwater fish, the hardhead catfish. They have one of the strangest reproductive cycles of any animal. When the female lays eggs, the father fish eats the eggs whole in his mouth, taking extreme care not to ingest the young. The marble-sized eggs stay safe and sound inside his mouth for months, or until they hatch and develop to over five centimetres in length!
Because he can’t eat because his mouth is full of writhing progeny, the male must progressively subsist off his own body fat until the young are big enough to fly on their own. Unfertilized eggs, on the other hand, might sometimes provide sustenance for the father. (Science Insider, Most Impressive Dads in the Animal Kingdom, Youtube, 22 November 2018)
Giant Water Bug
The Giant Water Bug is another extraordinary father in the animal realm. The painful bite of giant water bugs, also known as toe-biters and alligator ticks, makes them unwelcome company. Father water bugs, on the other hand, are devoted to their kids. The female water bug will use a natural and unexplained super glue to adhere her fertilized eggs to the male’s back. This could include up to 150 eggs.
The male becomes a very effective parent during the next 21 days, protecting the eggs from predators and periodically exposing them to air to prevent mold growth. When the eggs hatch, the father water bug assumes entire responsibility for the hundred or so young ones until they are ready to be released. (Science Insider, Most Impressive Dads in the Animal Kingdom, Youtube, 22 November 2018; Eric Luis, Dads of the Animal Kingdom Who are Truly the Best, Weird Nature, 23 September, 2021)
Frogs have plenty of good fathers, as male parenting is popular among these amphibians. Some frogs, such as the South American Darwin frog, retain their eggs and young inside their mouths, hidden away in their vocal sacs. Others, like the Oreophryne frog, wrap their offspring in their arms to keep them warm and safe from insects. Then there are the Glass frogs, who go all out to keep their eggs safe by kicking predators away! Other fatherly activities, including digging ponds for the children and riding on their backs, are also frequent among these amazing creatures. (Adam, Parental Care in Frogs and Toads, Gone Froggin’, 13 December 2016)
Human fathers may take pride in being hardworking breadwinners, responsible carpool drivers, or helpful camping companions. However, many other fathers in the natural world go beyond and above what is expected of them. It also begs the question of how humans can claim to be the superior species when many human fathers refrain from childbirth and child-rearing.
Regardless of species, we wish all of the outstanding dads who have inspired and enhanced the lives of their children a Happy Father’s Day this June.
About the Author: Mariana Burgos is a freelance artist. She is a solo parent for 14 years now because she is wife to a desaparacido. She and her daughter are animal lovers and are active in advocating not only human rights but the rights of animals as well.