Thursday, May 24, 2007 05/24/07-Mothers

In today's encore excerpt--mothers:

"As much as we may like to believe that mother animals are designed to nurture and protect their young, to fight to the death, if need be, to keep their offspring alive, in fact, nature abounds with mothers that defy the standard maternal script in a raft of macabre ways. There are mothers that zestily eat their young and mothers that drink their young's blood. Mothers that pit one young against the other in a fight to the death and mothers that raise one set of their babies on the flesh of their siblings.

"Among several mammals, including lions, mice and monkeys, females will either spontaneously abort their fetuses or abandon their newborns when times prove rocky or a new male swaggers into town. Others, like pandas, practice a post-natal form of family planning, giving birth to what may be thought of as an heir and a spare, and then, when the heir fares well, walking away from the spare with nary a fare-thee-well.

"When Douglas W. Mock of the University of Oklahoma began studying egrets in Texas three decades ago, he knew that the bigger babies in a clutch would peck the smaller ones to death. 'I figured that, if the parents were around, they'd try to block these things.' Instead, Dr. Mock witnessed utter parental indifference. ... 'In the 3000 attacks that I witnessed, I never saw a parent try to stop one. It's as though they expect it to happen.' "

Natalie Angier, "Oh, Mothers!", The New York Times, May 9, 2006, The Science Times, F1-4.


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