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As humans, we may have at some point in time have been asked or at the very least overheard the question, “Were you dropped on your head as a child?” It’s not exactly a complimentary inquiry, we know. When it comes to how some of Mother Nature’s wild newborns are treated during childbirth compared to how humans like to do things, it wouldn’t be uncommon to hear a lot of “Yes” responses (if animals could talk, that is).
Take for example the birthing process for a giraffe. We know giraffes are not a small animal, and females can reach heights pushing 16 feet (almost 5 meters). It’s one of the reasons when, after a gestation period of upwards of 15 months, a baby giraffe gets welcomed into the world by being unceremoniously dropped 5 feet (1.5 meters) onto its noggin. It’s the cruel price to be paid for having long legs that allow a giraffe to reach speeds of almost 40mph (64km/h) as an adult. These 10 Animal Births Prove Life Is a Miracle Despite the head drop, a giraffe calf is on its feet within minutes, and the circle of life continues.
1. The Hedgehog
When a baby hedgehog (called either a hoglet or piglet) enters the world, it’s a tiny, blind ball of spikes waiting to be unleashed. That’s because when its born, sharp protuberances-in-waiting are tucked just underneath the skin. Within a few hours of exiting its mother womb and as it’s surrounded by upwards of six siblings, a hoglet’s signature quills will start to make their debut. It’s a slow start to what will become the hoglet’s key defense mechanism as an adult, as 150 slightly dulled quills break through the skin and begin increasing in numbers until the hedgehog has 8,500 of them.
Hoglets are blind for the first month of their life, but that doesn’t stop them from wrestling with their brothers and sisters over a prime spot at mom’s milk bar. White as snow when they are born, the hoglets will also begin taking on the physical appearance of an adult hedgehog with the darkening of their quills. These little spiked bundles of cuteness will stay with mom for anywhere from six to thirteen weeks, at which point they bid a fond farewell to their family unit and move out into the waiting world.
2. The Giraffe
We know giraffes are not a small animal, and females can reach heights pushing almost 5 meters (16 feet). It’s one of the reasons when, after a gestation period of upwards of 15 months, a baby giraffe gets welcomed into the world by being unceremoniously dropped 1.5 meters (5 feet) onto its noggin. It’s the cruel price to be paid for having long legs that allow a giraffe to reach speeds of almost 64 km/h (40mph) as an adult. That fall does serve a purpose, breaking the amniotic sac and severing the umbilical cord at the same time. A giraffe calf is on its feet within minutes, although the graceful walk of its mother takes a little longer to develop.
Much of a giraffe’s pregnancy is done as discreetly as possible since out in the wild and surrounded by predators it’s the smart move to avoid looking like a slow target carrying up to 68 kilograms (150 pounds) of extra baby weight. Giraffe labor is not a quick process, and can take days before the calf being born. This includes having the incoming arrival’s hooves popping out as the official visible sign that a birth is underway. Because of the giraffe’s long gestation period, the fully-developed calf is born ready to stand, eat, run and stay out of the way of lions and tigers.
3. The Sea Otter
It’s not that a female sea otter isn’t great at multitasking, but when it comes to looking after its offspring it likes to focus all of its attention on only one pup at a time. It’s a rule that it strictly adheres to, so in the rare event of twins being born after a seven-month gestation cycle, mom will pick the one she thinks is strongest and abandon the other. It sounds cruel, and considering the sea otter’s close calls with extinction over the past century a little wasteful, but orphaned pups do have a chance for survival thanks to rescue agencies.
Weighing in at approximately 2.25 kg (5 lbs), pups are born on the water covered in fur called ‘natal pelage’ that acts as a natural lifejacket and helps keep a pup afloat. They may look like they have a layer of blubber to help keep them warm during their time on the water, but sea otters are completely blubber-free. Instead, as a pup matures it will start to grow up to one million hairs per 6.5 centimeters (one inch) of its body surface. For five to eight months, pups will stick close to their mother, feeding on fatty milk as they are slowly introduced to the staples of the sea otter diet such as crabs, clams, sea urchins and abalone.
4. The Rhinoceros
After a gestation period that can last for up to 18 months depending on the species, an expectant rhino will give birth to a calf that can weigh anywhere from 25 to 45 kilograms (55 to 100 pounds). It’s a whole lot of baby to look after, and despite it being delivered with a bit of an unceremonious thud is on its legs and taking its first few tentative steps within minutes. It’s that ability to master the art of walking that allows a calf to begin suckling its mother after a few hours out of the womb. Mother’s milk will be a key component of a young calf’s diet for the next 18 months, but during that time it will be introduced to the plants and vegetation that will form its adult diet.
With no horn at birth, the mother rhino acts like an all-natural tank for its child. Wild rhinos are known for being solitary animals, but the mother and calf form a tight bond in the three years they are together. Female calves will stay with their mom a little longer than males, but three years can a long time for sexually mature male rhinos in the region. A female rhino will not mate while it’s tending to its calf, and it is not uncommon for males in the region to kill a young rhino so that it can mate with the mother.
5. The Seahorse
Besides the astounding visual aspect of a seahorse giving birth (imagine 2000 tiny Sea Monkey-esque young ‘uns catapulted into the world at the same time), seahorses like to think outside the traditional pregnancy box by giving males the honor of carrying his life partner’s eggs in a pouch on his belly. The male seahorse has unfertilized eggs in this pouch, where he does one of his roles in the reproductive process by fertilizing them.
That pouch isn’t just about hauling eggs around, either. It’s an organ that acts like a thermostat controlling temperature and water salinity, all while turning on genes that can carry nutrients and bolster his immune system. While dad is working with the young, mom is busy producing more eggs. Once dad gives birth, he’s set to fertilize more eggs within hours, and the process repeats throughout the seahorse mating season.
6. The Zebra
Like other animals with long gestation periods, a baby zebra (called a foal) enters the world a little clumsy but ready to get to the business of surviving in the wilds of Africa. When a foal is born after 11 to 12 months in its mother’s womb, its mom may still only be a youngster herself — zebras can get pregnant by the time they are a year old. It’s not always the case, and it is believed the female zebra doesn’t reach full sexual maturity until it is four years old, but two-year-old zebra mothers (or dams) have been spotted in the wild.
Foals are born, usually at night to avoid predators, with legs that are nearly the size of an adult zebra. Social animals that favor safety in numbers, a dam in labor will temporarily leave the herd to give birth. After an hour of awkward first steps a young zebra is ready to join the rest its mother’s herd, which is usually under the rule of a dominant stallion. Foals usually stay with their mother for 16 months, pregnant or not.
7. The Seal
During the breeding season for seals, males (bulls) can get a little ornery. Females are instinctively drawn to dominant, stronger bulls, who assert their hormonal authority by mating with as many females as possible. How strong is this instinct for the fellas? A bull won’t leave the breeding grounds for anything — even to feed. Sex first, food later. Seals can reproduce in water or on land, but the birthing process is always on land and usually at the same breeding grounds where conception took place.
After a 9-to-10-month-long pregnancy, a single pup is born. What comes next is an action that is critical to the survival of the pup — the mother spins around to smell its offspring and allow the pup to smell her. The pup also gets a few maternal calls directed its way, sounds that it will use as vocal beacons as it grows. Should the new mom not recognize the smell of her pup, she will set aside her natural instinct to feed it and leave it to starve. If the pup passes the smell test, it can begin helping itself to milk from their mother. To help build up blubber, the milk is extremely fatty, and for one month following the birth the pup feasts while its mother stays by its side and doesn’t indulge in any food at all. Once mom leaves for a food run, the pup is on its own. It’ll have ingested enough milk to keep it going for approximately two weeks, at which point it instinctually heads to the water to feed.
8. The Turtle
Most species of marine turtles need to make a birthing pilgrimage to lay their eggs on land, and when you take an animal designed for life in the open water and stick it on a beach to deposit 100 eggs, it can be an extremely demanding process. Pregnant females drag themselves, usually under the cover of darkness, across their beach of choice to the high tide line. It’s a tedious journey that can take several hours, since this figurative fish out of water has to adapt to a cruel, dry world where flippers and a massive shell on your back don’t do you many favors.
Once a spot is selected where soft sand can be moved, digging begins. As her flippers fling sand in all directions, a female will produce tears to wash away anything caught in her eyes. What is created is a burrow called a brood chamber, where leathery, golf ball-sized eggs are deposited. When she’s done, the eggs are covered with more sand and mom begins the slow trek back to the ocean. After a month, the baby turtles begin to hatch, using the only tooth they will ever have in their life to break through their surrounding shell. After crawling out from under the sand, the hatchlings point themselves in the direction of the water and start the march to their underwater domain.
9. The Dolphin
Dolphin mothers have their hands (you can substitute fins in there if you’d rather) full from the time of conception and for years after their calf is born. First off, dolphins don’t stick to a biological clock breeding season routine. Any time, any place — dolphin lovin’ is always a possibility. After a 12-month gestation period, a calf weighing between 11 to 18 kilograms ((25-40 pounds) is born underwater, usually tail-first. Roughly 1.2 meters (4 feet) long, a dolphin calf comes out of the womb already pre-programmed to understand basic scientific principles. How so? A calf will immediately assume what’s referred to as the echelon position, which sees it swimming alongside its mother in her slipstream. The calf gets to keep pace with its mother, while not having to put forth as much physical effort.
Dolphin mothers in the wild with healthy babies have been observed acting more relaxed than a mother nursing a struggling calf. Speaking of nursing, it’s something a newborn will frequently do throughout the average day. It is thought calves can use their tongues to form an air-tight funnel that milk can flow through and avoid any water getting into the mix. In the midst of all of this, there’s also that blowhole on top of its head a calf needs to figure out how to use. Like any newborn, dolphin calves can be on the clumsy side. This can result in younger dolphins getting used to their blowhole misjudging distances to the water’s surface and sticking their whole head out for a breath of fresh air.
Sources: Dolphin Maternity
10. The Panda
When spring rolls around, it’s time for panda mating season. A panda pregnancy can last anywhere from 100 to 180 days and result in one or two very tiny cubs being born in a den safe from the outside world. Despite an adult panda’s large size, its offspring can fit in the palm of your hand. Cubs usually weigh in at 85 to 142 grams (three to five ounces) and resemble blind puffs of cotton that can poop more than their mother.
For the first sixty days of its life, a panda cub doesn’t leave the den. In the case of twin cubs being born, the mother will do her best to take care of both (including constant grooming), but if one starts to show signs of struggle it can be abandoned in favor of its stronger sibling. After eight weeks a cub will open its eyes, and continue nursing over the year as it gains upwards of 34 kilograms (75 pounds) of weight. It’s not until it reaches three months in age that a cub will be strong enough to crawl. As nursing continues, the mother will introduce bamboo into the diet, and by the time its first birthday rolls around a panda cub is usually fully weaned.
Story by Jay Moon