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Curious Nature: A Mother’s Day tribute to our wild moms

Karen Woodworth
Walking Mountains Science Center
Soon after porcupettes are born, their quills begin to harden and their mom will start teaching them to communicate using tactile sensations and vocal sounds. Mom also must teach her young how to forage for food.
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Motherhood is no easy task, no matter who you are. However, wildlife moms not only have to deal with their fragile, defenseless children but all of the other elements that come with living in the wild: finding enough food, unpredictable weather and fending off predators.

The wildlife mother is usually the sole caretaker of her young. There are no babysitters or fathers to help, so mom must invest a great deal of her time and energy to ensure her baby’s survival. Let’s take a look at how two moms, each from a different end of the predator-prey spectrum, raise future generations while facing the hardships of life in the mountains.

Porcupines

From birth, porcupine moms care for their porcupettes, the name for a baby porcupine, with great detail. As they prepare to give birth, moms build a cushiony burrow made from tall grasses and leaves. This provides the newborn porcupettes with a comfortable nursery and excellent protection from predators.

For the next one to two years, mama porcupines will look out for their young and teach them to survive in the wild. Soon after porcupettes are born, their quills begin to harden and their mom will start teaching them to communicate using tactile sensations and vocal sounds. Mom also must teach her young how to forage for food.

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While mom is up in a tree foraging for acorns, twigs and pine needles, her young wait for their meal at the base of the tree. Porcupettes will also follow mom up the tree to sleep as a way to stay out of reach of predators.

Bears

To prepare for birth, female bears must pack on the pounds. Mothers that don’t have enough weight on them by fall will not be able to sustain their pregnancies. Cubs are typically born in the den around January, when temperatures are still very cold. At birth, cubs weigh less than a pound, have minimal fur, can hardly crawl and are completely dependent on their mothers.

A black bear mother stands in the road with a young cub peeking out from the bushes.
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The mom and her babies may remain in their dens for the next several months until it is warm enough for them to emerge in the spring. During their time in the den, the cubs are growing and mom is doing her best to provide them with all the nutrients and warmth they need. As the cubs sole provider, she loses 0.36 to 0.61 pounds a day converting fat, water and other body stores into milk and energy.

Between mid-April and May, the new families emerge from their dens, ready to face a whole new set of challenges. For the next two years, the cubs will remain with their mom as she teaches them how to climb trees, find food and communicate. After their second winter, the cubs will be chased away by mom as she prepares to mate for the next season.

Motherhood is filled with trials and tribulations, even more so when you’re facing the struggles of survival in the wild. Although mothers in the wild don’t raise their young for 18 years, the short time they have with them is incredibly formative and crucial to their survival.

Raising kids can sometimes feel like raising wild animals, but at least human moms don’t have to deal with the hardships of the wilderness. This Mother’s Day, take a moment to thank your own mom, who like the moms of the wild, makes sacrifices to raise us happy and healthy, despite the challenges.

Karen Woodworth is a former naturalist with Walking Mountains Science Center. Join Walking Mountains online for more animal stories, outdoor activities and learning opportunities. Visit walkingmountains.org/learnonline.


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