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Happy Mother's Day 2014: Mothers in the Animal World

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Happy Mother's Day! Here are just a few stories behind the many scenes depicting the mother-child bond from around the Museum. 

Armadillos

NAM Nine Banded Armadillo Hero

If one baby takes a lot of work, imagine having identical quadruplets. All litters of many armadillo species (Dasypus sp.) derive from a single fertilized egg that divides into four. The same-sex pups arrive in the spring and, even as newborns, look like miniature adults. Armadillo moms nurse their pups for two to three months before they switch to an adult diet.

Find the Armadillo diorama in the Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals

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Giraffes

Giraffe Mother and Baby Natural Histories

This giraffe (Camelopardis giraffa) mother and wobbly newborn are depicted at home in the London Zoo by watercolor painter Robert Hills (1769−1841), who added the imaginary African landscape.

© AMNH/D. Finnin


After a 15-month gestation period, giraffe mothers give birth while standing or walking. The newborns can be more than six feet tall, and they are able to stand up right after birth. For the first few weeks, the mother will closely guard her baby, until the pair is ready to join the herd, where the young giraffe is cared for by a group of females. 

Find these giraffes in Natural Histories, an exhibition including reproductions of wonderful natural history art from the Museum Library's Rare Book Collection. 

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Grizzly Bears

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly bear moms are very protective while tending to or feeding their cubs. The mother in this diorama is showing her six-month-olds (one isn't pictured here) how to tear open a rotted pine for ants and grubs to eat. If another bear threatens her young, a female bear will shoo her cubs up a tree to escape. 

Find the Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos) diorama in the Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals.

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African Elephants

Akeley Elephant Mother and Child

© AMNH/M. Shanley


 

Related African elephant females and their young live in tight-knit families, called bond groups. All of the elephants in the group care for the young, but the bond between mothers and daughters is especially strong. A mother elephant will reassure a young calf by embracing it with her trunk or rubbing it with her foot.

The group of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in the center of the Akeley Hall of African Mammals includes males and females, with two mothers and their young at the front facing the Rotunda of the Museum.

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Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine Falcon

On the Palisades above the Hudson River, these peregrine falcon chicks await a feeding from their mother. Once common in New York, peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) nearly disappeared because they were eating prey laced with the insecticide DDT; the toxic compound led to eggshell thinning in peregrine falcon eggs, causing would-be parents to accidentally crush them before they hatched. After the insecticide was banned in the 1970s, the birds made a comeback, though they remain endangered. 

The Peregrine Falcon chicks wait for their mother in the Sanford Hall of North American Birds.

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Indian Python

Indian Python with eggs (Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians)

© AMNH/M. Shanley


Female Indian pythons (Python molurus) incubate their eggs for up to nine weeks at a time, leaving only occasionally for a drink. If the temperature of the snake and the environment drops below 91°F the snake warms her eggs with metabolic heat produced by initiating strong, periodic contractions in her body and by shifting her pose around the eggs to retain heat. Mothers can keep their eggs as much as 13°F warmer than their surroundings.

The Indian python incubates her eggs in the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians.

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