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Lots of modern moms worry when they're not staying home with the kids. For most animals, working while raising children is the norm. One researcher on baboons has pointed out that they're all dual-career mothers: None of them get to stay home to raise the baby, and they all have to find food and do all the other adult baboon things at the same time.
And while most of us have to work hard at earning a living and raising the kids, lots of animals don't bother to parent their young at all. And we're not just talking about the usual suspect frogs who lay their eggs and run. There are neglectful moms, even among animals that have a reputation for devoted care.
The scrub fowl gets out of incubating her own eggs by burying them in a pile of rotting compost, which keeps the eggs just as warm as mom would. Birds like the cuckoo and cowbird do even less work: They've been known to lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. When the young cuckoo hatches, the baby pushes foster siblings out of the nest, and the parents put all their efforts into raising the interloper — while the real mom gets on with her life.
Mother lions raise their young communally and often nurse each other's cubs (although they do let their own offspring feed first). Ruffed lemurs look out for other babies when their moms are away, alarm calling when there's danger, and grooming and playing with them.
But before you start to feel bad about not pitching in to care for all the kids in the neighborhood, it turns out that many animals who have help with child care aren't exactly role models.
Among South American marmosets and tamarins, several males help care for a female's babies — because she's mated with all of them. In many group-living animals — wolves, hyenas, meerkats and the dwarf mongoose — only one female reproduces, and all the others help raise her young. And if any of them get knocked up, the dominant female kills the babies.
There are even some animals that have an entire staff that handles the kids and all the other household chores. Take the naked mole rat. A colony is made up of one queen and a handful of male mates, while the rest act as soldiers and workers. All the queen does is reproduce, while the other members of the colony dig tunnels, find food and protect the family.
You might envy the naked mole rat queen. Of course, she is naked, wrinkled, blind and living underground with family members who roll in their own excrement to share their smell. Maybe the labor of raising your own kids is a fair trade-off after all.
Linda Lombardi is a former zookeeper, college professor and the author of Animals Behaving Badly, a new book that grew from her blog of the same name.
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