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The Best Dads in the Animal Kingdom

Happy Father’s Day everybody!  My dad is like my best friend.  He’s always been there for me, with love and support, and stands as a great role model for what fatherhood should be about.


In the animal kingdom, there are also wonderful father figures to admire; here are six examples:

Male seahorses take fathering to a whole new level: pregnancy. "From a research standpoint, it's interesting because there aren't very many species in which there is a sex role reversal," Adam Jones of Texas A&M University said. "It provides a unique opportunity to study sexual selection in this reversed context."

Adelie penguin dads are the ultimate babysitters. They must tend to eggs for two weeks, without even breaking to eat, while mom returns to sea. As a result it helps if dad is fat to begin with. "A fat male is a good choice for a female because males do so much of the offspring care," said Dianne Brunton of Massey University, who studied the penguins in Antarctica. "They're able to incubate the eggs for longer and use up their fat stores, while skinny males aren't able to do that."

School is often in session for young meerkats, with the top lesson being how to obtain food. Dads, as well as moms and even older considerate helpers, watch after youths, teaching them valuable skills without putting them in harm's way. How can a lesson on hunting, though, not be dangerous? To solve that problem, dad or another instructor incrementally introduces dead, injured and then finally live prey to pups, according to Alex Thornton of the University of Cambridge and his team. Like any good teacher, dad or the helpers also monitor the pup. If pups are reluctant to handle prey, dad nudges the item towards them to encourage interaction. Additionally, when the prey wanders off, dad retrieves it and returns it to his pup, sometimes further disabling it to make sure that it's safe for his pup to handle and eat.


Male baboons tend to be big and ornery, but they are devoted to their offspring and will risk their lives to get them out of a jam. All baby baboons might look alike to untrained human eyes, but Duke University researcher Susan Alberts and colleagues found that dads time and again give preferential treatment to their own genetic offspring. "If male baboons care for their kids- and baboons are almost among the least likely societies where you would expect to see this- then it suggests that paternal care has really deep evolutionary roots in primates," Alberts said.

See the fish eggs on the rock in the back? Sand goby dads must end every day feeling tired. They first have to find mussels and other shells for their families to hide under. They defend these shells, hollowing out space under them and piling sand on top to disguise the shells from predators. As if the guarding work weren't enough, the dads then use their pectoral fins to fan water over eggs. This creates a current of fresh, oxygenated water needed for the eggs to mature.

See the two little heads poking out from the wing feathers? How cute! Rhea dads, not moms, build the nest and incubate eggs. They even take care of their chicks for six months after they hatch. The lucky chicks benefit from dad's imposing size.

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