Dads are great! And they care for their kids in lots of ways. Some doting fathers in the animal kingdom are especially notable.
For example, if you could peer deep into the ocean, you might see a whiskered fish staring back, looking as though his mouth is full of marbles. This is a male sea catfish, and he is a most unusual father. When the mother catfish lays her eggs, the father scoops each one into his mouth for incubation. There are usually between ten and thirty marble-size eggs! For about two months the father catfish swims around with his bulging mouthful—even after the eggs have hatched!—and he doesn’t eat during this whole time! When his offspring are two inches (5 cm) long, the father opens his mouth, and they are on their own from then on.
If you were an Indian living in the jungles of Colombia, you’d be aware of another unusual father, the poison arrow frog. He’s small enough to fit into a teaspoon, very colorful, and a secretion on his skin is so poisonous that the Indians make poison-tipped arrows from it. If a small mammal or bird is shot with these arrows, it is immediately paralyzed. Some believe that this frog’s poison is deadly even to large animals.
This beautiful jungle creature and caring father takes care of his offspring right from the time that they hatch. The tiny tadpoles wriggle onto their father’s sticky back and hold on with their suction-cup mouths while their father carries them piggyback through the jungle.
Since tadpoles need their skin kept moist, every once in a while the father frog will go to a pool and dunk them. They aren’t strong enough to swim yet, so they cling tightly to their father’s back. After a few weeks of growing, they are ready to live in the water. One day when their father enters a pool, they drop off his back and swim away.
If you ever have the chance to hike through the pampas of Argentina, you might see an ostrich-like bird called a rhea. If it’s leading a group of chicks, stay away! This bird is known to attack anything that seems to threaten its young—even a small airplane!
This five-foot (1.5 m) bird may act like an overgrown mother hen, but he is actually the father of the chicks. He prepares for his young before they are even born by scratching out a hollow in the dirt for a nest and lining it with dry grass. When the nest is ready, he leads several female rheas to it, and they each lay several eggs in it. The father has even been known to reach out and catch an egg on his wing as it is laid, then roll it into the nest with his beak. Soon the nest is filled with about thirty yellowish eggs. For forty days the father rhea sits on the eggs. After they hatch, the father keeps a close watch on the chicks for at least six weeks. Wherever he goes, they go. If he spots danger, his deep voice booms out in warning, “Nan-du!” and the chicks take cover. The father rhea takes care of his youngsters until they are several months old and can take care of themselves.
If you were an explorer in Antarctica, you’d have the opportunity to meet another fantastic father, the emperor penguin. This stately bird has a seemingly impossible task as a father. In the middle of winter the mother penguin lays a single egg on an ice pack. For a few days she and the father penguin take turns incubating it. Then, because the mother needs to go to the sea to feed, she leaves the egg to the father to keep warm while she is gone. Through the worst part of the Antarctic winter, with temperatures ranging from -40° F (-40° C) to -100° F (-73° C) and with raging winds, the father covers the egg with his sagging belly. For most of two long, hard months this father stands faithfully holding his egg, usually huddling for warmth with a group of other penguin fathers.
When the penguin chick hatches, the father continues keeping it warm and protected as it huddles at his feet. If the mother has not yet returned, he also feeds the chick with a fluid secreted in the lining of his stomach. When the mother does return, she takes her turn caring for the chick while the father goes to feed at sea—finally! After gorging on fish and restoring his needed body fat, he returns and both he and the mother collect food for the chick. The father penguin continues providing warmth, protection, and food until the young penguin is about six months old and can fend for itself.
Although these dads differ from each other in appearance and styles of fathering, they all take good care of their young. Dads are great!