25 September 2018
NATURES DIFFERENT OFFSPRING

Mother nature is a truly amazing thing, the more time you spend admiring her the more you begin to notice how almost everything has been thought through, or is in the process of being considered. One such area of thought is that of the different offspring that Mother nature produces.

There are two broad categories that we can assign to the offspring of just about all mammals and birds. These two broad categories can be further broken down into more complex and in-depth sub categories, but for this article I will just focus on the parent categories, namely precocial and altricial.

These two options help us to separate offspring into babies that are essentially useless at birth and those that are far more capable. Let’s start with those that are altricial, or in other words helpless. These are youngsters that are born or hatched blind, with very limited movement and often with little to no hair or plumage. They are 100% reliant on their mothers for at least the first few weeks of life in the case of birds and at least the first few months of life in the case of mammals.

Some species that come to mind immediately are lions, leopards and hyenas. So, as you can see this type of offspring is favoured mostly by the predators but not limited to them. For example, the ever-cute tree squirrel or the humble warthog also fall into the altricial camp. What is often observed by animals that produce altricial young is that they produce more than one baby at a time, rather favouring a litter. This is essentially an insurance policy, taken out to help ensure that at least one or more of the youngsters survive to adulthood.

The second option is precocial, or in other words able, to a certain degree. These are animals that are born or hatched with the ability to see right away, with fur or feathers and are able to move effectively within a very short time frame. These babies are still fairly reliant on their mothers but nowhere near as much as their altricial counterparts. These are the youngsters we have all seen on Discovery channel that are able to stand within hours, some times minutes of being born! Some of the animals that come to mind would be impala, zebra and giraffe.

However, there is one species that takes the title for the most precocial youngster, well at least within the mammalian world, and that would be the blue wildebeest or brindled gnu. The offspring of this species is usually able to stand within just 6 minutes and furthermore, they are able to run with the herd within two hours. To top it all off baby wildebeest are able to eat solids and have an almost exclusively solid diet within 10 days of being born, although if it is possible that they will suckle for at least 4 months.

Most herbivores fall into the precocial category, however it is not limited to just antelope. Species such as elephants and rhinos also fall within this group. Precocial animals also tend to give birth to just one youngster at a time as opposed to a litter which ensures incredible devoted parenting from the mothers. Another insurance policy that is practised by many precocial species is that of massed birthing. All the pregnant females within a herd give birth around the same time which essentially over saturates the system with babies and leads to a much higher survival rate especially in larger herds.

This is a very basic introduction to the subject and there are some animals that blend the lines between precocial and altricial and there are also many sub categories found between them. If this is a subject that interests you then please feel free to email me (luke@tandatula.com) as I will be more than happy to continue the discussion.

Lastly, what camp do you think we humans fall into? Let us know in the comments below!



 

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