Reflections in Nature: Fathers could take lesson from roles in nature
On Sunday we celebrated Father’s Day. In the United States it was reported that the average daily amount of one-on-one father-child contact was less than 30 minutes a day. The report went on to say that 40% of dads that have been divorced for at least five years no longer see their children. In 2020, nearly 19 million children, amounting to 25% of all children in the United States, were living in single-parent families.
This percentage is nearly three times the nine percentage level in 1960. This breakup of the family unit is the main reason today for the many problems our youth have.
In nature, the male’s goal is to ensure that his genes make it to the next generation. When a male does not stay to help in the raising of his offspring, it is known as “trust evolution.” The male uses less energy when using this trust evolution, however, he also has less control over whether his genes actually make it to the next generation. Due to this, most males will mate with as many females as possible.
Although our parenting roles are changing, mom is still the one that gives birth, feeds, changes (most) diapers, nurses a sick child and tends to other duties associated with raising children. Although dads do help, I believe the bond between a mother and child is greater than that between a father and child. Most of us are aware that fathers do not receive the same attention that was shown to mothers on their special day.
Today men are taking a more active role in raising their offspring. This is not a new concept. In the Bible, we read that “There is nothing new under the sun.” In the animal world, some species of males have been doing traditional female roles for eons. The males of penguins, frogs, toads, sea horses, fish and many insects, take full responsibility of raising their young.
Usually, the male bird protects its territory, while the female incubates the eggs. In most species of birds, the male is the most colorful, with the female usually drab in comparison; however, in the kingfisher family, it’s the female who is the most colorful. She displays a rufous colored breast band, which is absent in the male.
In the majority of species, it’s the female that does most of the nest building, however, in the kingfisher family, it’s the male that digs an underground chamber for a nest. The female will lay her eggs, usually a clutch of six, on a pile of regurgitated fish scales at the end of the tunnel.
Also unusual is that the male kingfisher does most of the sitting on the eggs. After the young hatch out, most of the feeding is done by the male.
A trip to almost any body of water will assure you of seeing water bugs. According to “Parenting Papas” by Judy Cutchins and Ginny Johnston, most water bugs are able to stay underwater for a long period of time. This is due to a thin film of air, which is trapped by microscopic hairs on their bodies, that allows the water bugs to breathe underwater; however, they must come up for air occasionally. In the spring, the giant water bug will seek a female while underwater.
After finding one, he puts on a courtship display underwater that appears as if he is doing push-ups. When a female approaches a male he grasps her with his forelegs and fertilizes her eggs. The female then climbs on his back and lays approximately one hundred eggs. At the same time, she releases a glue that attaches each egg firmly to the male’s folded wings. The male then carries the eggs until they hatch.
The male water bug spends most of his time on the surface, while clinging to plants. He must stay near the surface so that the eggs can receive enough oxygen. In 12 days, the eggs will hatch and cling to the father for several hours before swimming away. After the empty egg mass falls off his back, he will seek out another female to mate. There is a greater chance for the eggs hatching when the father carries the eggs. However, in the 20 species of water bugs, there are females that attach their eggs to a floating plant. These eggs are more prone to predation.
What is the role of the male toad? After the female toad lays a string of jelly-like eggs in the water, the male twists and squirms while swimming among the eggs. This causes the string of eggs to wrap around his thighs. For the next month, the male carries the eggs wherever he goes. To make sure the eggs do not dry out, he spends quite a bit of time soaking in the water. The male toad must be in the water when the young will hatch. This is important because the young tadpoles will have gills and need to breathe underwater in order to survive.
We fathers could take a lesson from nature. However, through the years, I’ve found it much easier to say, “Mary Alice, the kids need your help.”
Bill Bower is a retired Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Officer. Read his blog and listen to his podcasts on the outdoors at www.onemaningreen.com.