Thursday, June 12, 2014

Most Wonderful Dads of the Animal World

Author's Note: This is my 100th blog post!!! A special thanks to all of you devoted readers out there!

Yes, Father's Day will be here once again! Just like what we did with Mother's Day this and last year, we're going to devote this blog post to father's all over the world! That's not the only thing we're celebrating: tomorrow marks my blog's 2nd year anniversary! I'm so excited! Two years of writing this blog . . . where has the time gone? Perhaps this makes today the perfect day to talk about some really cool news concerning, you guessed it, Jurassic World, the upcoming movie. Let's get started.

Days Till
It is: 3 days till Father's Day
It is: 9 days till Summer Solstice and the first day of summer
It is: 22 days till Independence Day

In the Spotlight
A couple of months ago, some official images from Jurassic World were released. We now have three more to add to the collection:
Chris Pratt's character, Owen, appears to use a motercycle to get around the park. If the raptors escape, this vehicle will come in handy!
Bryce Dallas Howard's character appears to be having a conversation with Owen in this photo, the topic is unknown.

I don't know about you, but this picture appears to be from a scene in which Ty Simpkin's (right) and Nick Robinson's character (left) appear to have come across a dangerous situation!
Of course, exactly what's happening in the scenes these photographs come from is unknown, but I can't wait to see when the movie finally roars into theaters exactly one year from now, on June 12, 2015!!! Only 365 days to go . . . just don't count down for me!

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Mother's often get a lot of credit, both human mothers and mothers of the natural world. Not that they're not due the credit! I mean, without mothers, the world would be a very different place, as mothers do a lot of things in our lives that no one else could do (giving us life is one example). So the purpose of this article is not to bash the attention mother's get. However, father's are also important in the role of any animal or person's life. Without them, we still wouldn't be born.

Scripture perfectly illustrates the importance of father's in the human household. In Ephesians 6:2, the writer Paul says, “Fathers,...bring them (their children) up in training and instruction of the Lord.” Another verse says that father's should “Train up a child in the way he shall go, so that when he is old, he shall not depart from it,” Proverbs 22:6.

Perhaps father's in nature don't get a lot of credit of child-rearing sometimes because, frankly, most male animals simply mate with a female and move on to find another mate. But there are a few animal father's that not only stick around after mating, but they also help take care of their offspring. So today, let's look at some of the top animal dads!

A father ostrich feeds with one of his chicks.
Something special happens when an ostrich gets between 2-4 years of age: they're ready to mate! At that age, most humans are only just learning to walk and talk! When it comes time to find a mate, the male ostrich performs a special mating dance with his wings – by creating alternating wing beats, he hopes that a female will find him attractive enough to be his mate. Once mating is done, it becomes time for egg-laying. Unlike many species of birds, ostriches make communal nests, meaning more than one female ostrich will lay their eggs in a single nest. The nest is dug out by the male and is 1-2 feet deep and almost ten feet wide! The dominant female gets the first dibs on laying eggs and it is only after she's finished that other subordinate female ostriches will lay their eggs. When the other females are finished laying, the dominant female often kicks out some of the eggs of other females, leaving about 20 eggs in the nest, including her own. Then it's time for the incubating process. For the next 35 to 45 days, the parents alternate incubating the nest of eggs. Typically, the dad will incubate the eggs at night because his black-colored feathers make him harder to see in the dark; the mother on the other hand incubates normally in the daytime because her feathers are a lighter color and blend in with sand and savanna, scrub, and/or desert foliage. Even after the eggs hatch, the male continues to stick around. Though the mother helps out, it is mostly the father's responsibility for defending the young and teaching them to feed. A close relative of the ostrich, the male rhea, rears its young in almost the same way, but with pretty much no help from the female.

Male lions will ferociously protect their families from all intruders.
The male lion may look majestic and is often referred to as “The King of the Beasts”. However, it turns out that they don't do too much in life. Once taking over a pride, they metaphorically hit the couch; though they do sometimes help the rest of the pride hunt, they mostly let the lionesses do the work. Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, he claims first dibs to the kill! So how on earth did the lion get onto our list of “best animal dads”? Perhaps an even better question is why on earth the lionesses even need him around? Well, as you may or may not already know, male lions are responsible for protecting the pride from other male lions. Sometimes, other males will attempt to take over the pride; this is when the male lion really shows why he's “King of the Beasts” (though technically, I maintain this title belongs to the elephant since they're much larger and stronger)! A pride leader knows that if another male takes over the pride, he will kill all the cubs under the age of two; this enables the lionesses to come into heat again. The pride leader uses all his muscle and strength to make sure that he remains leader of the pride. Despite their apparent laziness, it's never wise to underestimate the power of a male lion! Though a fierce fighter and often somewhat rough on lionesses (especially during mating), lion dads can be quite tolerant of their kids. Often times, they will allow them to play with their father's tail or his majestic mane. Now you know why the male lion rightly deserves a spot on our list!

The dominant silverback gorilla is one of the most protective dads in the animal kingdom!
There are four subspecies of gorilla within the two species of this ape: the Western lowland gorilla (with the easy-to-pronounce scientific name of Gorilla gorilla gorilla), the Cross River gorilla, the Mountain gorilla and the Eastern lowland gorilla. Gorillas live in groups known as troops, normally consisting of an alpha male – adult male gorillas are called silverbacks due to the silver-colored fur on their backs – adult females and their young, though sometimes other adult males may be present in the group. Gorilla troops center around the silverback alpha. He gets all the mating rights to the females in his troop if other males are present in the troop and he's responsible for leading the group to feeding sites, choosing where they'll go, making all the decisions and stopping conflicts between other members of the troop. Another job of the alpha silverback gorilla is to keep the troop safe from predators and rival silverbacks. The silverback gorilla is one of the best dad's in the animal kingdom because they will fight with their lives at stake in order to protect their families. Predators such as leopards are a potential threat to a troop of gorillas. When threatened with rivals, gorillas will often do the characteristic chest-pounding behavior in an attempt to drive them off. Despite being a strong and powerful creature, silverbacks are pretty laid back animals and prefer to live peaceful lives in the Africa rainforests they call home.

The phalarope is one of the few bird species in the animal kingdom in which the dads have duller plumage than females and presume the role of raising the children solo.
Also known as the wadepiper, this bird is a shorebird with a slender neck that often feeds in multitudes in areas such as the Great Salt Lake in Utah and the Mono Lake in California. In most animal species, the male is more brilliantly colored than the female and it's the female's job to care for the young. But no one told that to the phalarope! Not only are females more colorful than potential mates, but they are also one of the few animal species in which the females try to search out and fight over males! In fact, the phalarope sexes basically have switched roles when it comes to reproduction. During the mating season, female phalarope will mate with a number of different males before laying their eggs and leaving the area to migrate south, freeing themselves of child-rearing responsibilities. The job of incubating the eggs and caring for the young belongs completely to the dads! This Father's Day, spare a thought for the hard-working phalarope, because these dads definitely have their hands (er, wings?) full!

Great Hornbill
This great hornbill dad has just returned to the nest hole with food to feed his mate, who is trapped inside.
There are many species of hornbills, but the one we'll be focusing on is the species known as the great hornbill, also known as the great Indian hornbill. Most species of hornbills are monogamous breeders, and the great hornbill is no exception. When it comes time to lay eggs, the female will find a hollow in the trunk of a large tree, either one made naturally or by a woodpecker; they are often used more than once by the hornbill pair. Before going into the tree cavity, the female (sometimes helped by her mate) begins to seal the entrance with a little fruit pulp and mud, but the primary thing she uses is droppings, leaving a hole just big enough for her to squeeze through. Then she'll close the hole up some more, blocking herself in, save an even smaller hole. They do this to ensure a higher rate of survival for their chicks. Once inside, the female lays two to eight eggs (the exact number varies with each species). But because she's sealed herself in, the mother hornbill can't get out to feed herself or her young once they hatch. This is why the hornbill father is one of the best animal dads – while the young are incubating in their eggs, the father flies to and from the nest, delivering food to feed his mate and, and later his children. What's on the great hornbill's menu? How about fruit, insects and small animals? Sound yummy? After the eggs hatch (which takes 38-40 days) and the chicks grow a certain size, you can imagine that it might be a bit cramped inside the nest. This is when the mother breaks out of the nest; in some species, the mother rebuilds the wall, while in others, the young do this job. As the young mature, both hornbill parents continue to feed and care for their young ones. Sounds like the hornbill dad has a lot of work cut out for him!

Three-Spined Stickleback
In this illustration, the male Three-spined Stickleback fish (bottom right) builds a nest and tries to attract females nearby.
Most fish could care less as to what happens to their eggs after their laid. But the 2-inch-long three-spined stickleback is one of the most unique dads in the fish world. They usually can be found in coastal waters or freshwater bodies that connect in someway or another to the coast in the Northern Hemisphere. In late April and July, both genders of this species leave the deeper waters and head inland into areas more shallow. This is where male sticklebacks dig out a small depression and creates a nest made up of plant material, sand and various types of debris all glued together with a special substance from his kidneys called spiggin. After the nest is glued together, he'll make a tunnel in it and attempts to lure females nearby with a dance that involves zigzag movements. If the female is impressed, she'll follow the male to his nest and lay 40-300 eggs! Then it comes time for the male to fertilize the eggs. Other than actually laying the eggs, female sticklebacks play no role in the child-rearing process; but you can't really blame her for leaving the eggs to the male, because he's the one that chases her away from the area! Apparently, the male stickleback likes being a single parent. The eggs take about 7-10 days at 18-20 degrees Centigrade and during that time, the male fans them with his fins to make sure they get plenty of fresh oxygen-loaded water. He also chases away other sticklebacks, no matter what sex (however, he will try to attract gravid females to add their eggs to his nest). When the baby sticklebacks hatch, the father tries desperately to keep them with him by grabbing any that exit the nest into his mouth and dumping them back into the nest. Eventually though, the young are able to get away from where they hatched. For the dad however, it's time to either leave the nest or repair it to attract more females!

Emperor Penguin
During the long, cold months the father emperor penguin balances his offspring on his feet while waiting for his mate to return, he feeds the baby a milk-like substance to keep it from starving.
Perhaps the emperor penguin of the coldest continent on the planet – Antarctica – should be nominated as most devoted father of the year! After reaching the age of three, the emperor penguin is old enough to join in the yearly ritual of reproducing. Every year, thousands and thousands of adult birds form a colony and march to yearly nesting sites 31-75 miles inland so that they may lay their eggs where the pack ice is nice and thick. This alone is an amazing feat considering penguins have short, almost non-existent legs. This species of penguin is monogamous, kind of like the great hornbill, and after the female lays a single egg about a pound in weight in May or early June, her nutritional reserves will be so exhausted that she'll have to return to the ocean to feed . . . for two whole months! While she's gone, it is the father's duty to protect the egg from the elements. For 64 consecutive days before the egg hatches, the father penguin carries the precious egg atop his feet and underneath a special brooding pouch, all while battling the fierce Antarctic winter that possesses terrible storms and winds that blow 120 mph! To protect themselves from the cold, emperor penguin fathers will all huddle together and take turns huddling in the middle of the group. The time between traveling to the nesting grounds, mating and incubating the egg is four months, and during this time an emperor penguin father can loose up to 44 pounds; that's half of his body weight! Finally, the egg hatches and if the mother has yet to return from the sea, the father will feed the newborn a special milk-like liquid from his throat. It isn't until mid-July to early August that the mother emperor penguins return to their mates and hatchlings to relieve the father off his duties so that he can make a short trip to the sea to get something to eat. Talk about pure devotion!

Sea Horse
Stuffed full of offspring, the father sea horse (far right) is probably the strangest father in the animal kingdom!
If you think the way your parents raised you was a bit strange now, your mind might change drastically after reading about the strangest dad in the animal kingdom. Sea horses aren't only weird in appearance, but the way they reproduce is just plain bizarre! When most animals court during the mating season, it doesn't take too long. Sea horses however often court for several days before the “official courtship dance” which lasts eight hours. Then it's time for them to mate. Why is the sea horse the animal kingdom's strangest dad? Well, after the courtship dance is complete, the sea horse female will insert her ovipositor into her mate's brooding pouch, injecting anywhere between dozens and thousands of eggs. So she isn't even the individual who gets pregnant – the father does! Inside his pouch, the male sea horse produces prolactin to keep the developing eggs healthy; prolactin is the same hormone that causes milk production in mammals, including humans! However, unlike the sticklebacks and phalarope we already learned about, the female doesn't abandon the male after giving him the eggs. Instead, she'll visit him every morning for roughly six minutes to reminiscent of their courtship. Then it's time for the young to be born and this extraordinary dad . . . actually gives birth! Most sea horse dads give birth to 100-1,000 baby sea horses. From then on, the babies must fend for themselves and receive no extra parental care; in fact, the sea horse dad will be ready for his mate to give him more eggs to bear upon her return and the process will begin again. Talk about a strange upbringing!

So there you have it, the best animal dads, just in time for Father's Day! We've looked at some of the most devoted fathers, fathers that do all the work of child-rearing, fathers that pair up with their mates, fathers that protect their families from danger and even a father who gets pregnant and gives birth! While we continue to learn more about these and other incredible dads in nature, they should also remind us of just how much our Heavenly Father and our human dads care and love us!

If you liked this article, please be sure to subscribe to my blog, tell your friends about it and to all the fathers of the world: HAVE A HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!!!

P.S. 1: Have a puzzling question about animals (including dinosaurs), myself, my latest book, my stop-motion movies, Creation or etc? Please post your question as a comment or send me an email at PS. and/or at, as sometimes messages don't come in via my AOL account.

P.S. 2: Many (or in some cases all) of the photographs and images above are not mine. If you own one or more of them and would like them to be removed, politely let me know via one or both of the email addresses above.

P.S. 3: What’s the new in the news? Check it out at SMILEY’S NEWS.

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