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Insects that are Great Mothers

Happy Mother’s Day! There are mothers in every species of the animal kingdom, but some are more nurturing than others. Of all the species’ mothers in the world, none deserve higher praise than our mothers and mother figures. With their countless hours of work, sleepless nights, thankless labor, the hugs and kisses, and endless love make them the crowned queens of motherhood.

Human mothers are definitely the best. But did you know that some insects are attentive to their babies? It’s surprising to think that they can be nurturing when you look into their nasty faces and many legs, but many of these creepy critters have some distinct motherly instincts.

These are just a few of the insects and arachnids that are dedicated to their offspring. Just for fun, we’ve also added a few insects that aren’t good mothers at all.

Excellent Insect Mothers

Spiders

Even though they are creepy, spiders are actually pretty good mothers. Web-spinning spiders wrap their eggs in protective silk sacs that they hang in a safe corner of the web. If a powerful insect or rival spider threatens her eggs, the mother spider huddles around them and will strike at anything that comes too close. Many species will carry the eggs with her and abandon her web.

The wolf spider is the only spider species in the world that carries her eggs everywhere she goes. After the eggs hatch from their protective silk sac, they crawl on her back. With hundreds of baby spiders on her back, the mother spider is slower and often goes hungry.

Scorpions

Did you know that scorpion babies are born live? Unlike spiders and most insects, scorpion babies are born directly into the open air. Their bodies are too soft for them to walk or hunt, which makes them vulnerable to attack and starvation. So their mother carries them on her back — just like the wolf spider — until their exoskeletons harden and they are able to take care of themselves.

Earwigs

Yep, that’s right, earwigs make pretty good mothers! The females make an elaborate nest for her eggs, using up a lot of her time and energy to keep them comfortable. She stands close guard over her nest until they are ready to hatch. She stays with them after they hatch until they’re ready to take on the world.

If her nest of eggs is threatened by weather or predators, the mother gathers her eggs and abandons the hard-earned nest to make another one in a safer place.

Wasps and Bees

Honeybees and wasps have a type of community approach to raising their young. Honeybee hives survive the winter together by huddling close and vibrating their wings to create heat. The queen doesn’t resume her egg-laying duties until the colony is comfortable and the weather warms up. Every worker of the colony contributes by gathering honey, attending to the queen, or guarding the nest.

Social wasps are similar, but they do have some differences. While honeybee hives survive the winter together, only wasp queens survive the winter. As the weather warms, the wasp queen emerges from her winter hiding place and does everything on her own. As soon as she has a comfortable nest and a consistent food source, she alternates between gathering food and maintaining her nest. When the eggs hatch, she hunts caterpillars or other meaty insects for the larvae to eat. When they reach adulthood, the queen’s daughters help the queen by expanding the nest and searching for food. Eventually, the hive has enough daughters to take over the nest building duties and feeding the larvae, and the queen focuses on nothing but laying eggs.

Life with social insects like wasps and honeybees gives new meaning to the old phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Ants and Termites

Like wasps and bees, ants and termites are also social. Each member of the colony divides the labor, taking care of the queen, expanding the nest, foraging for food, and caring for the unhatched eggs and undeveloped larvae. Meanwhile, the queen (or queens) does nothing but lay eggs. The ultimate goal of each member of the colony is to protect and maintain the survival of the next generation.

Some aggressive species of ants or termites might engage in an ant-sized battle with a rival colony or a dangerous enemy. But if the nursery is in danger at any time, the colony calls off the fight and rushes to protect the eggs and larvae.

All social insects are like one giant animal with one goal: to feed and care for the next generation.

German cockroaches

It might be surprising, but German cockroach mothers are pretty good at caring for their young. Female cockroaches lay their 30-40 eggs in a sac called an ootheca. She carries this sac wherever she goes. The sac is usually about half her body length, so this often makes her slow and awkward. She finds a safe place with plenty of water and food nearby and places the sticky sac somewhere the baby cockroaches can find their food.

German cockroaches are social, so the adults teach each other and the younger roaches where to find food and which places are dangerous.

Terrible Insect Mothers

Flies

Without much brain to devote to their children’s survival, it’s not surprising that flies spend so little energy rearing the next generation. The only effort they give into parental attention is to lay their eggs near fly food sources like a dumpster, manure, or dog poop.

Bed bugs

Female bed bugs barely even realize they are carrying eggs. She gives no thought at all to the place the eggs are laid and usually has no idea she gave birth at all. Eggs could end up in the middle of nowhere, and out in the open where predators could find them. Although, since bed bugs spend most of their time hidden in a tight corner or in a mattress seam, the eggs accidentally end up there.

But bed bugs clearly have no concept of parental responsibility. They don’t purposefully do anything to give their offspring any life advantages. The baby bugs just figure out what to do on their own.

Cockroaches

Not all cockroaches are as careful about their offspring as German cockroaches. Few roaches spend the time taking care of each other. Usually, juvenile cockroaches are left to fend for themselves.

Fleas

Fleas put less effort into parenting than flies or bed bugs. While they feed, fleas produce their eggs virtually at random. The eggs either get tangled in the host’s fur or hair, or they fall to the ground. Larvae are left to fend for themselves. For fleas, the larvae might as well be another species.

Thank You Mothers

None of these mothers compares to the invaluable care and attention our mothers and mother figures give each of us. Today is a great opportunity to share your appreciation for the love your mother or mother figure. Thank you mothers, whether you’re our biological parent or parental in nature, for everything you have done and continue to do for each of us.

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Posted on May 6, 2020.

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