5 Tales of Motherly Love Featuring Ontario's Wildlife

In honour of mothers everywhere, we wanted to share these 5 creatures and some heartwarming anecdotes and fascinating facts about these animal mothers in the wild, highlighting the diverse ways in which maternal love is expressed across different species.

Virginia Opossums

Opossums may not be very popular critters due to some misunderstandings around them, contrary to popular belief, about 90% of opossums are immune to rabies. They are also excellent mothers. Newborn opossums remain in their mother's pouch for about 2 1/2 months. As they become too large to fit in the pouch, they climb onto the mother’s back and she carries them around. If one of the young becomes separated from its mother it will make sneezing sounds to call her. 

Bumblebees 

Only about 1% of insect species show parental care, for social insects, it takes a village to raise offspring. 

After choosing a nest (often in an abandoned chipmunk burrow or other ground cavities), the bumblebee queen will begin to collect pollen from flowers, to bring back to the nest. She forms a mound of pollen and wax (which she secretes from her body) and lays her first brood of eggs. She also collects nectar which she stores in a "honeypot" made of wax. The queen keeps the eggs warm by sitting on her wax ‘nest’ and shivering her muscles to keep warm. Sipping from the nectar-pot gives her enough energy to incubate the eggs for several days until larvae emerge. The queen goes back-and-forth to collect pollen and nectar from nearby flowers to feed them. After around two weeks, they spin a cocoon and develop into adult bees.

This first brood of offspring are all ‘worker’ females, and will carry on with most of the work involved in growing the colony. Some will guard or clean the nest, while others will forage for nectar and pollen from flowers to feed other broods. At this point the Queen will remain inside the nest most of the time, laying more eggs. As the season progresses nests begin producing offspring which are not workers. New queens females and males are produced late in the season in order to allow the colony to reproduce. 

Blue Jays

 

Unlike many birds, Blue Jays form monogamous pair bonds for life. In order to raise 1 or 2 broods per year, male and female Blue Jays both gather materials and build the nest. Both Blue Jays put a considerable effort into taking care of their eggs. They work together to build the nest, share incubation duties, feed the young, and protect their nesting site from predators.

Young leave the nest between 17-21 days after hatching, but remain with and are fed by their parents for one or two months! Around this time it is common for people to mistake fledgling Blue Jays found on the ground as "abandoned", but they are still being cared for by their nearby parents. There is a lot of individual variation in how quickly young become independent, which is why you may observe noisy teenage or sub-adult Blue Jays still begging their parents for food.  

Eastern Five-lined Skinks

 

Female Five-lined Skinks (Ontario's only lizard) form communal nests where they may share in the care of eggs, alternating between foraging and guarding eggs so that eggs remain protected all of the time. Any eggs displaced from the nest are retrieved by head or snout rolling. Maternal care ends a day or two after hatching, when hatchlings leave the nest, but it is still quite unique in the reptile world that they nest communally and incubate their eggs. Crocodile mothers also take excellent care of their young, even after hatching, but there are not many other examples of reptiles that show any type of parental care. 
 

Wolf Spiders

The female wolf spider takes great care in protecting her offspring. After laying several dozen eggs the mother wolf spider wraps them in silk, creating an egg sac. She then carries it with her wherever she goes. If she is separated from her egg sac she will furiously search for it, and is increasingly aggressive until the sac is found. After her eggs hatch she continues to care for the spiderlings, carrying them on her back until they are old enough to fend for themselves. What's creepy to some is cute to others. I think it's adorable!

 

 Happy Mother's Day! 

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