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When we think of birth, we often imagine how humans do it; giving birth to live young. Sometimes, we might imagine an animal hatching from an egg, but some creatures deliver their babies in much more unusual ways.
Odd Animal Birth Methods
From octopus mothers that starve themselves to death after giving birth to mammals that lay eggs and every weird and wonderful thing in between, nature has some incredible ways of giving birth.
1. Spotted Hyenas
The spotted hyena is a mammal, but that doesn’t mean that its birthing methods are as standard as one.
Unlike other mammals, female spotted hyenas do not have a vaginal opening. Instead, they have what is known as a pseudopenis. This is actually a large clitoris that, for all intents and purposes, looks like a penis. Even more interesting is that the structure is used to pee and has erectile tissues which allow the female to show dominance.
It features a small opening of just over 0.8 inches (2 cm), but consider that the young will measure at least 2.4 inches (6 cm), and it’s easy to see why this is a painful process.
In fact, all first-timer hyena moms will tear during their first delivery, and in as many as 18% of cases, they’ll die after giving birth because of the trauma to their bodies. However, if they survive, subsequent births are less painful and much easier as this tear never completely heals.
2. Tarantula Hawks
Tarantula hawks are one of the largest species of wasps in the world, and they get their name from the fact that they prey on, you guessed it, tarantulas. While this is indeed an amazing fact about these insects, things get even more mind-blowing when it comes to their reproduction.
Those giant hairy spiders don’t only serve as a meal for the tarantula hawk, they’re also a host for their eggs. Once the female tarantula hawk is ready to lay her eggs, she will find a suitable arachnid host on which to lay each of her eggs.
The eggs will remain within the spider’s body for around four days when it hatches and feeds on the unsuspecting host from the inside out.
While I don’t want to jump on what is a woman debate that seems to be all over the internet at the moment, I think we can all agree that in most cases, it’s the female of the species that gives birth. Well, not if you’re a seahorse.
This is one of the only animals in the world, the other being the pipefish, whose males give birth, and unlike other species, fertilization happens within the male’s body. It all begins when the female passes her eggs to her mate, who then fertilizes them and stores them in his pouch which is similar to a uterus and even contains a placenta.
The seahorse carries the embryos for between two and four weeks, at which point his abdomen starts to contract enabling him to expel up to 1000 young per delivery! However, only around 0.5% of these fry will survive and make it to adulthood.
Mammals give birth to live young, and things like reptiles, birds, and amphibians lay eggs, right? Well, nature always has a way of confusing us and breaking the rules, and nothing could provide a better example than a monotreme.
A monotreme is a mammal that lays eggs, and there are only five known living species, including the platypus. This is an Australian species that has many other mammalian features, such as fur and the ability to nurse their young.
But when it comes to giving birth, the females will dig deep burrows where they lay up to three eggs. During incubation, the female will curl around the eggs until they hatch, producing totally helpless young that are no larger than a lima bean.
5. Surinam Toads
Imagine giving birth directly out of your skin; that’s exactly what the Surinam toad does. But even the way that the eggs are implanted in the skin in the first place is pretty weird.
The female Surinam toad has several shallow pockets all along her back. During mating, which can last up to 12 hours, she will release eggs which are then fertilized by the male. He then rolls them into these little pockets where her skin grows over them until they’re ready to hatch. Talk about keeping your babies close!
The Surinam toad is pregnant for around four months at which point, the young start punching their way out of the skin-covered holes. Unlike other similar species, they emerge as toadlets as opposed to tadpoles.
6. Emperor Penguins
Emperor penguins only lay one egg at a time, and for them, this is the most precious thing in the whole world. Once the female has laid her egg, she will pass it onto the male who has a brood pouch close to the feet. He rests the egg on his feet, caring for it intently while the female goes out to sea to feed.
It takes around 65 to 75 days for the chick to develop inside and then it emerges as a sweet, fluffy youngster. At this point, the parents take it in turns to look after the baby while the other goes off in search of food. The parents will regurgitate their meal to give to the chick – yuck!
Being able to give birth in the most favorable conditions would be ideal for any species, but most animals have no choice, the baby arrives when it arrives, and there’s not much room to delay breeding. But that isn’t true for the armadillo who practices embryonic diapause, something that only a very few mammals can do.
Armadillos have been known to be able to delay the implantation process, as is the case with several other mammals. But being able to stop embryonic development in its tracks is something entirely different.
It was long disputed that armadillos had this ability, but now two instances have been recorded by science. It works when females experience environmental stress during pregnancy, so they pause the development of the embryo and they can halt the proceedings for as long as two years!
Adult kangaroos are large, strong creatures, but when they’re born, they’re only around 0.4 inches (1 cm) in length and are seriously underdeveloped. That’s because the joey is born after a very short gestation period of 33 days. At this point, they’re still an embryo, but they leave the uterus and make the arduous journey along its mother’s body to her pouch. She helps out by licking her fur to create a scent-lined path.
Once in the pouch, the joey suckles on its mother’s milk and can spend up to six months continuing its development. Amazingly, the mother is able to suckle two joeys at once; one in the pouch and one on the outside.
While they finally emerge after six months, baby kangaroos remain in the pouch for part of the time up until around a year of age. However, they’ll still continue to suckle for a further four to six months depending on the species.
If I asked you to think of a large bird egg, I’d put money on it that you’d say the ostrich egg. You wouldn’t be wrong, they lay the largest bird eggs on the planet, but when you think about their size in comparison to their bodies, they’re quite small. That’s not like the kiwi that lays an egg one third the size of its body, making it the bird that lays the largest egg in comparison to its body size.
Kiwis are peculiar birds from New Zealand with long, narrow bills and a puffy brown feathered body. They’re flightless birds and around the size of a domestic chicken.
Each breeding season, the female kiwi lays just one egg, and that’s no surprise since it can weigh as much as a quarter of what she does. The egg is six times larger than that of a chicken, and growing such a large egg means that the female needs to take in three times more food than usual.
Once the egg is laid, which is quite traumatic for the female, her lifelong male partner then takes over to incubate it for up to 92 days.
There are many animals out there whose main purpose in life is to reproduce. When they have done this, they’ll die. Take the male honey bee for example. But the octopus takes things to the extreme, and mother’s literally self-destruct after giving birth, well not right away.
Female octopuses lay their eggs among the rocks on the ocean floor or inside a cave. She takes taking care of the eggs very seriously and will blow water over them in order that they stay oxygenated as well as protect them from any would-be predators.
However, before she even has the chance to meet her young, she starts acting very oddly, tearing on bits of her own flesh and even feasting on her arms. However, she will stop eating her usual diet and eventually starve to death.
The reason for this is the cholesterol and chemical pathways in her body, as well as her optic gland; in specimens where this is removed, the female does not behave in this self-destructive manner after birth.
11. Shingleback Lizards
While the kangaroo joey is tiny when it is born, some animals have young that are huge in comparison. The shingleback lizard, for example, gives birth to babies that are as long as 8.7 inches (22 cm); that’s a third of her own size. That’s like you or I giving birth to a six-year-old child!
Even more interesting is that she gives birth to live young, which is uncommon in the reptile world, where animals usually lay eggs. However, she only has between one and three babies at once, but if she does have triplets, just think how much effort they would take to grow!
Shingleback lizards are among the largest skinks in Australia, but towards the end of their pregnancy, mothers find it hard to breathe with that large baby inside her. During the final weeks, she goes through a lot and may stop eating entirely and become largely sedentary until she finally gives birth to her babies.
Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world so when I tell you that they give birth standing up, you might think that that’s a long way for the baby to ‘fall’ out. But you have to consider that a baby giraffe measures around 6 feet (1.8 meters) so it’s not actually that far.
Shockingly, all it takes is for mom to spread her legs, and her baby plops out onto the floor with a thud; head first!
What’s more, when they’re born this way, it allows the amniotic sac and umbilical cord to break away, and the baby can take its first breath.
This all sounds very traumatic, but it does no harm to the little one; and I use the term lightly! Baby giraffes are born extremely developed as they need to be able to get away from predators right from the moment they’re born. That’s why giraffes are pregnant for so long; up to 457 days.
13. African Cichlids
African cichlids are a popular aquarium species, but many owners worry that these fish are cannibals! It’s not a total myth, and it all comes from the fact that this species carries its young in the mouth.
When they spawn in the tank, they will take over a good portion of it and become very protective, which can be intimidating for other tank members, so it’s always a good idea to have a large enough aquarium.
After spawning and the fry hatch, African cichlids are known to put their young in their mouths as a way of protecting them. However, it’s since been discovered that during this process, they will consume some of their babies in order to remain strong and healthy enough to breed again.
14. Gastric-Brooding Frogs
The gastric brooding frog is an extinct species but its breeding behavior has astounded scientists so much that they’re trying to bring the frog back from the dead.
The eggs would be fertilized outside of the body and then the female would swallow them. Proteins in her body would ‘switch off’ her stomach so as to avoid digesting the eggs and during the six-week gestation period, she wouldn’t eat anything.
When the eggs hatched, the tadpoles, as many as 25, would be brought up by the mother over the course of a week. However, if she was disturbed during this time, she would violently vomit them all up at once. The young are fully developed and scientists have managed to create a new embryo using DNA from the related great-barred frog.
15. Cuckoo Catfish
Why waste time raising young when you could be out doing other things? That sounds like a pretty cold sentiment doesn’t it but it’s common in the animal kingdom and it’s known as being a brood parasite.
Essentially, the animal will lay its eggs in a host nest and let them do the rest of the hard work of parenting. The cuckoo catfish, so named because the cuckoo bird also behaves in the same way, lays its eggs in the nest of the mouthbrooding cichlid.
Usually, the female cichlid will keep her eggs in her mouth until they hatch. However, when the cuckoo catfish lays her eggs among the cichlid’s clutch, everything goes downhill. When the catfish eggs hatch, they’ll feed on the eggs of the cichlid before swimming out of the mother’s mouth to get on with its life.