For me, the hardest thing about this pandemic is missing my extended family. Masked over-the-fence meetings can’t take the place of leisurely gatherings with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. In the past three months, we’ve missed out on birthdays, Mother’s Day, picnics, and graduations. A longing for loved ones is something most of us share, even as our individual family structure varies. Family structure in the animal world varies, too, and is endlessly fascinating.
For turtles, good parenting means finding a safe place to lay eggs. After that, turtle young are on their own. Risks to hatchlings are numerous, which is why many turtle species produce several clutches of eggs each year. Mating takes place in the spring and summer, since turtles hibernate in cold weather. Interestingly, female box turtles can produce fertile eggs up to four years after mating!
Eastern bluebirds also produce several clutches of eggs a year. Fledglings from the first two broods leave the nest permanently once they’re able to fly, but those from the last clutch will overwinter with their parents. Birds go to great lengths to keep a tidy nest, consuming their babies’ droppings after each feeding. I’m all for a clean house, but this is parental devotion to the extreme.
Another devoted animal parent is the beaver. Dome-shaped beaver lodges are home to monogamous parents, young kits, and the yearlings that were born last spring. Once the weaning process begins, both parents gather twigs and leaves for their kits to eat, and older siblings help groom and care for younger ones. When adolescent beavers finally leave the family home, they usually settle nearby.
If you’ve seen squirrels with bald patches on their backs and shoulders, you might suspect mange. But fur-depleted squirrels are usually females who have used their own fur to line their nest. Rabbits do the same. Unattended baby rabbits are no cause for alarm: mother rabbits nurse their babies only five minutes each day. When not feeding their young, they’re off grazing on clover and other plants to fortify their rich milk.
Like rabbits, does leave their fawns unattended for hours, hiding them in tall grass or brush. Newborn deer weigh in at only six to eight pounds; their spotted fur provides camouflage against the sun-dappled forest floor. Unlike their mothers, fawns have no scent, so being on their own actually keeps them safe from predators. Which just goes to show: whether in the animal or the human world, sometimes the best way to share our love is through social distancing.
by Jenny Houghton
Photos by Kellen McCluskey