From Australia to Zambia, thousands of moms across the globe will (hopefully) receive an extra dose of appreciation this weekend as many families kick off their Mother's Day celebrations. The animal kingdom is brimming with examples of doting moms, from the powerfully maternal elephant matriarch that undergoes an eye-watering 22-month gestation period for each calf, or the polar bear mama that has to pack on an extra 400 pounds of baby fat just to ensure that her little darling is well-nourished.

But Mother's Day often whizzes by with no mention of strawberry poison dart frogs or caecilians or any number of lesser-appreciated species that go the extra mile for their babies and rarely get recognition for their efforts. Here's a look at five animal moms that deserve a round of applause this Mother's Day.


A female caecilian guarding her eggs. Image © Davidvraju

When it comes to dedicated mothering, caecilians have got us beat. These tube-like amphibians sacrifice the very skin off their backs (and pretty much everywhere else) to keep their squirming offspring well-fed. When a mama caecilian is taking care of a brood, she grows an extra-thick outer layer of skin that's rich in nutrients and fat. Her writhing mass of noodle-like babies use specially adapted teeth to tuck into mom's fat suit, using a "death roll" technique similar to crocodiles to tear off chunks of skin. It's a behaviour called dermatotrophy and caecilian mothers seem to be the only creatures that do it.

But that's just the egg-layers. About three-quarters of caecilian species give birth to live young and they do things a little differently. Their babies develop teeth while they are still foetuses so that the little angels can munch on mum's reproductive organs before birth. And you thought you had a difficult labour ...


We tend to assume that all arachnids lay eggs, but scorpions actually give birth to live young. The tiny babies – known adorably as scorplings – are pale in colour and have a soft exoskeleton that leaves them vulnerable to predation. To keep the scorplings safe, a mother scorpion carries her young around on her back like this (apologies to the arachnophobes):

Image: Scorpion Hunter/YouTube

The babies remain on their mother's back until they have moulted and their soft exoskeletons are replaced with a hardier protective casing. Unless, of course, mom gets hungry. In which case, she might just eat the lot of them. Hey, motherhood is tough and nobody's perfect.

Strawberry Poison dart frogs

The strawberry dart frog is one dedicated mother. Image © Marshal Hedin

Strawberry poison dart frogs are not like other amphibians. While most frogs lay thousands of eggs at a time and typically abandon their spawn to fend for themselves, strawberry poison dart frogs lay about six pea-sized eggs and, after papa frog has spent ten days or so protecting the precious cargo (and urinating on them to keep them moist), they hatch into tadpoles.

The proud mom then transports each tiny tadpole to it's very own pool of water, usually in the base of a bromeliad plant leaf. With the youngsters settled into their new homes, their mom spends every day for the next few months travelling to each pool and making sure that her babies have enough to eat. 


Baby alligators are amongst a number of crocodilian species that have their moms to thank for keeping them safe during the early stages of life. Image © Ianaré Sévi

With a sinister grin and cold, dead stare, crocodilians prove that you don't have to look like a loving mom to be one. A study published in 2015 shows that the mothers of many crocodile and alligator species talk to their babies. Using playback from recorded croc calls, researchers learnt that babies in the egg use an umph, umph, umph call to signal to mom and their siblings that they are ready to greet the world. Mother crocs respond by digging up the eggs, picking up the hatchlings in their jaws and carrying them to the safety of the water. But mom's job is not done yet. Until the babies grow large enough to defend themselves, the female will stick around to respond to any distress calls from her brood (with the kind of vigour only a crocodilian mama can muster). As the youngsters grow older their "voices" get deeper and their mother knows to start backing off.

Egyptian geese

Be honest, when was the last time your mom faked an injury to save your life? Egyptian Geese probably do it all the time. In fact, distraction displays have been recorded in a host of bird species (as well as the odd fish and mammal) and it's a nifty trick for keeping predators away from a concealed nest or a brood of vulnerable chicks. Injury-feigning performances are one of the more common forms of distraction in birds. In these displays, birds will hobble away from their nests or areas where their chicks are hiding while quivering their wings to make themselves seem like easy targets for predators. Earlier his year an Egyptian goose in South Africa's Londolozi Private Game Reserve was recorded feigning an injury to draw a hungry otter away from her goslings:

From letting their young chow down on their outer fat layers to hauling their babies around on their backs, moms in the animal kingdom have developed an array of fascinating techniques for safely raising their offspring. But that's not to say that human moms don't also have their work cut out for them. So to all those moms out there – from amphibians to humans – Happy Mother's Day!

Top header image: Joshua Tree National Park/Flickr