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Paternal Behavior of Animals

written by: ciel s cantoria•edited by: Jason C. Chavis•updated: 5/20/2011

Recent interests in animal paternal behavior are about the extra-ordinary traits of some animals in their roles as parents. The idea of cross fertilization is being promoted in symposiums, perhaps considering the feasibility of producing perfect species as products of perfect parenting traits

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    Interesting Facts Revealed by Animal Behavior Studies

    523px-Kingdom of animals 

    First off, we should establish the distinction between parental behavior and animal paternal behavior.

    A reference to parental behavior is largely related to the animal’s mothering activities. On how animal offspring are spawned, nurtured, sustained and protected .

    Animal paternal behavior on the other hand, is the adult male’s set of behavioral patterns that can create the affectionate bond between the male animal species to his offspring.

    It is quite natural to expect female animals to carry out their animal parenting duties through different lengths, in order to provide and care for their young. But what is extra-ordinary is a male animal's paternal behavior to assume the parenting responsibilities even from the point of birthing. What animal species represent this extra-ordinary traits?

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    The Paternal Behavior of Male Emperor Penguins

    90px-Couple emperor penguins 

    The female penguins tend to have the upper hand in a relationship because they do the mate selection and compete for the male penguin’s attention. This could be very important for the Emperor penguin species because the male mates will assume the responsibility of taking care of the egg that the female penguin spawns.


    The Emperor female penguin is the only penguin species that breeds during the harsh Antarctic winters. Once the egg is transferred to the male Emperor penguin, the latter will incubate the egg under the fold of its skin called the brood patch and will keep it there for 60 days. The female or the mother penguin will leave the mate and egg all throughout the incubation period to look for food. The mother penguin will come back to nurture the young penguin once it hatches and comes out of incubation.

    In the meantime, about a hundred male emperor penguins are all huddled together and provide each other comfort and warmth as they all go through their parenting roles of incubating their eggs. Intuitively and instinctively, the female or mother Emperor penguins will be able to seek out their male mates and their newly hatched chicks at the most appropriate time. The mother’s first agenda upon her return is to feed her chick with regurgitated food she stored. The male penguin will now take its turn to leave and look for food after starving during the whole incubation period. Thereafter, the mother and father penguins will take turns to feed and care for their chick until it becomes old enough to swim and fend for itself.

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    The Paternal Roles of Male Seahorses


    In the world of seahorses, the males vie for the female seahorses’ attention and compete against each other by having tail pulling competitions. An observer would hardly call it as a friendly rivalry since it involves snarling at each other with the use of their snouts. It will even reach instances when they make use of their necks to wrangle and to bring their rivals down to the bottom of the seabed just to prevent its opponent from showing off.

    Competing seahorses who wish to impress their female prospects strut and show off their birthing pouches, by showing its full capacity to bear as much as 600 baby seahorses. To be convincing, the strutting male seahorse will fill up their pouches with as much water as they can and spew it with force. This is their way of manifesting its strength and capacity to go through 3 weeks of pregnancy and 72 hours of labor to release 200 baby seahorses at the least. 800px-Seahorse - Singapore 

    Accordingly, a seahorse turns white and pallid and will look terribly pained as it clings on to a seaweed while going through each baby seahorse's birthing processes. However, after a short while of going through with this experience, the male seahorse will again be ready to show off his pouch, this time signifying to his mate that he is just about ready for another round of seahorse pregnancy.

    On the other hand, the female seahorse will assume the responsibility of searching for food. During the entire mating season, the male and female seahorse couple will engage in their mating act by entwining their tails and spiraling into a flirtatious dance that can bring them to heights, usually above the water's surface.

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    The Paternal Contributions of Darwin Frogs

    Darwin's frog 

    800px-Litoria caerulea - Darwin NT 

    The female Darwin frog lays about 30 to 40 eggs which the male parent will guard for about two weeks. Once the eggs hatch and become baby tadpoles, the father frog will carry all the babies inside a vocal pouch, which you can see as the sagging skin under the chin. The tadpoles will stay there until they reach about one and a half-inch long and be permitted to swim away on their own.

    Since most Darwin frogs are found in Chile, this frog species is said to be affected by the unexplained decline in frogs. As their habitat continues to be affected by deforestation, the loss of trees are said to have contributed to their exposure to ultraviolet radiation. In some areas, the native trees had been replaced by exotic pine and eucalyptus trees which threatened their natural habitats. Today, Darwin frogs are being kept in several protected areas and its population closely monitored.

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    Other Factors that Influence Paternal Traits in Animals

    yellow breasted bird canvasducks 

    In Europe, particularly Spain, certain zoological investigations by the Museo de Zoologia de Barcelona, revealed that male birds with flashy yellow-orange bird feathers are preferred by the female bird species as a demonstration of better genes and better paternal behavior. The enhanced yellow pigment is said to be an indication of the bird’s greater consumption of caterpillars; hence, their likely quality of becoming good providers for their offspring.

    The canvasback ducks, known to be the largest diving ducks and are considered as the “aristocratic breed of ducks" due to their erect long necks, long sloping profile and rich striking plumage migrate during breeding season. They court their mates during migration and stay for awhile, usually a few weeks. This is while the eggs are still incubating. They will eventually abandon their mates and the nests. They may come back and breed again on the next breeding season but can be expected to court a new breeding partner.

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    Infanticide: The Animal Paternal Behavior Scholars would Prefer to Ignore

    primate 800px-Lion King 

    Infanticide as one aspect of animal parenting behavior is an animal instinct that does not receive much attention, due to its reprehensible nature. Studies about this aspect were initially reported mostly in primate groups involving apes, monkeys and even man and stemmed mostly from usurpation of territorial and tribal powers; hence, creating the need to eliminate male infants who would become potential rivals. However, this was also found evident in animals like lions, foxes, bears and wolves but was not the same reason applicable to cases of infanticide among rodents, fish and insects.

    For all reasons considered as causes of infanticide, the most influencing factor that has been established for infanticide tendencies is population density. Nevertheless, regardless of the reason none of them seems to justify the abominable nature of the act.

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    Reference Material and Images Credit Section

    Reference Materials:


    Images Credit:

    • Wikipedia Commons