Let’s Hear It for the Dads!

Poisson-clown mâle s'occupant des oeufs prêts à éclore  - A male tomato clownfish tends to his developing eggs. -  -

I recently saw this photograph of a male Tomato Clownfish tending his developing eggs which got me to thinking about other examples of males taking an active part in care giving. Southern Cassowarys are large flightless bird related to Emu, Ostrich and Rhea.  They live in rainforests in Indonesia, New Guinea and Australia. The male builds a nest on the ground – a mattress of plant material 2–4 inches thick and up to 39 inches wide. This is thick enough to let moisture drain away from the eggs. The female lays a clutch of three or four eggs.  But it is the male that incubates the eggs and raises the chicks alone.

Southern Cassowary male with chicks,  Queensland, Australia. Photo by Kevin Schafer /Minden Pictures
Southern Cassowary male with chicks, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Kevin Schafer /Minden Pictures

Male Emperor Penguins take egg-sitting duties for weeks while Mom heads to sea to hunt fish for her soon-to-hatch offspring. Males fast during this time period, but if the chick hatches before mama penguin returns, dad can still produce a curd-like substance, which he regurgitates to keep baby fed. In fact, males are so important to the brooding process that females seek out pudgy partners who can sit on eggs longer without food. Couple de Manchots empereurs et leur oeuf Terre Adélie -  -  - Spotted sandpiper ladies, it seems, get to have all the fun, at the expense of Dad. In this polyandrous species, the female is much larger than the male and mates with several males. She stakes out her bachelorette pad where she lures in a mate. The real kicker? After laying her four eggs in a ground nest, she flits off to find another guy pal, leaving the male sandpiper to incubate the eggs and then tend to the young for at least four weeks. Go papa sandpiper!

Spotted sandpiper Photo by Dan Harbour
Spotted sandpiper Photo by Dan Harbour

A male seahorse may be the ultimate catch. They not only get pregnant, brooding eggs in their pouch, but they’re monogamous and so mate for life. Here’s how it works: The seahorse mates intertwine their tails, and the female connects a tube, call and ovipositor, to the male’s pouch, through which she delivers her eggs. Inside the pouch, the male fertilizes the eggs and keeps them snug for two to three weeks, depending on the species. And like any good daddy, he monitors the salt levels inside his pouch to ensure they match the surrounding environment to keep the baby seahorses healthy.

Male pygmy sea horse giving birth.  Photo by Paul Zahl/National Geographic/Getty Images
Male pygmy sea horse giving birth. Photo by Paul Zahl/National Geographic/Getty Images
Spotted seahorse male with his recently hatched brood.  Photo by Norbert Wu/Minden Pictures
Spotted seahorse male with his recently hatched brood. Photo by Norbert Wu/Minden Pictures

Talk about a formidable Dad. Direct contact with a wild three-striped poison dart frog can cause severe cramping, local paralysis, and seizures. The three-striped poison dart frog is believed to be the second-most toxic member of this genus, but they are also a remarkable example of male parenting. The three-striped poison dart frog lives in dense populations consisting of separate frogs living in close proximity to one another. As such, there are no “breeding gatherings” and males may court females at any time. Once the female is sufficiently impressed, she lays a small clutch of eggs, which the male then guards. When the eggs hatch, they are carried by a male to a source of water; sometimes a puddle, and sometimes a water-filled tree hollow. They are guarded by their father until their development is complete.

Three striped poison dart male frog carrying tadpoles on his back.  Photo by Piotr Naskrecki
Three striped poison dart male frog carrying tadpoles on his back. Photo by Piotr Naskrecki/Minden Pictures

In damselfishes the male clears an area of debris and builds a nest. He then performs a series of in-water loops swimming in an attention-getting manner to try to persuade a number of females to lay their eggs in his nest. The females tend to choose the male that does the largest number of dips in a given period during his courtship dance as this presumably enables the female to evaluate the health and fitness of her potential egg-guarding partners.

Male Damselfish Guards Eggs Ecuador Fred Bavendam Minden 00154044
Male Damselfish Guards Eggs in Ecuador Photo by Fred Bavendam/ Minden Pictures

One more beautiful example for fatherhood: Madagascar Paradise flycatchers are monogamous.  Females apparently select males based on their tail length, a form of sexual selection. The nests of this genus are neat deep cups placed on a branch or twig, often in a fork. They are usually placed 1–3 meters off the ground. They are often very conspicuous, particularly when the long-tailed males are incubating.

Male Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher feeding young.  Photo by Cyril Ruoso/Minden Pictures
Male Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher feeding young. Photo by Cyril Ruoso/Minden Pictures

In honor of upcoming Father’s Day I am adding just one more photograph of a proud Dad:

African Lion with seven week old cub in Kenya.  Photo credit:  Suzi Eszterhas Minden Pictures
African Lion with seven week old cub in Kenya. Photo credit: Suzi Eszterhas Minden Pictures

 

 

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