An orangutan mother holds its baby.

Honoring the Top 5 Moms of the Animal Kingdom

When you hear “champion-moms of the Animal Kingdom,” kangaroos and tigers may pop into your mind. Rightfully so, as we all know how kangaroo moms carry their joeys around in their pouch and, in some cases, nurse their joey for up to 18 months! Don’t forget about the trendy ‘“tiger-mom” title given to human moms, that came about thanks to the tiger’s fierce protectiveness of its cubs.

Let’s learn about 5 lesser known moms of the wild who deserve an honorary mention, just in time for Mother’s Day:

5. Extreme Baby Carrier

You would never want to be caught in a ferocious alligator’s mouth with its killer, sharp teeth, but alligator moms are surprisingly gentle with their babies. They scoop up the newly hatched babies into their jaws, moving them from their vulnerable dry land-nest, and placing them safely into the water. Once they leave the land, their intimidating mom teaches them how to catch fish and insects, and guards them from any approaching predators. Now that’s top-notch security in baby transportation!

4. Hanging with Mom

Orangutan mothers and their offspring (pictured above) form an incredible bond, in fact, one of the strongest in the wild kingdom. An orangutan baby is entirely dependent on their mom for the first two years of life, literally hanging onto her for food and transportation. Did you know, for the first four months, mom and baby never break contact? The moms stay with their young ones for up to seven years, teaching them necessary survival skills, like where to find food and how to build a nest. Some even nurse until they are five years old! However, the bond doesn’t end there. Female orangutans will continue to “visit” their moms for many years after leaving the nest.

3. Marathon Meal Prepper

In an Emperor penguin family, dad steals the spotlight as he balances the egg above his feet in frigid weather and fasts for months until hatching period. Where is mom during the 64 days or so of incubation? Emperor penguin moms hand off the egg to dad and travel to the ocean to hunt. They return around the hatching period with a belly full of food to feed their newborn. Following birth, the female takes over from dad and cares for the young chick, continuing to travel up to 50 miles in harsh conditions to fish for her newborn until it is big enough to hunt. That’s a lot of miles of waddling to the supermarket!

2. Labor of Love

Elephant moms deserve a high ranking on this list for having an extended gestation period of 22 months, along with the heaviest babies. Did you know an elephant mom can give birth to a calf weighing 200-250 pounds?

However, the new mom is never alone in caring for her baby. As elephants live in a matriarchal herd, other “ladies” step in to help as early as the minute the calf is born, lifting it to its feet and guiding it to nurse. The calves in the herd watch the older elephants and learn what to eat and how to get food. Even as they travel in packs, elephant moms keep close contact with their calves and show affection. This bond is one of the closest in all of the animal kingdom.

1. Super Granny

The top spot goes to a grandmom! Scientists recently reported on the “grandmother effect,” which defines the amazing role Orca grandmothers play in the survival of their pod. The granny killer whales stay close to their grand-calves and help orca moms raise them, serving as caregivers and teaching survival skills. They are so important, the study found, that when a grandma orca dies, her grand-whales don’t fare as well and could die within two years, even after reaching adulthood. Orca whales live in a matriarchal structure and these super grannies serve as powerful leaders of their pods, often impacting a whale’s entire life span.

Take a bow, moms and grandmoms! Thank you for all you do!