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Insects with Motherly Instincts

Happy Mother’s Day! No mothers are quite as dedicated to their babies as human mothers. With the countless hours, the sleepless nights, the often thankless labor, the hugs and kisses, and the tireless effort, human mothers are incredible. Of all the mothers in the animal kingdom, no species deserves higher praise than our mothers and mother figures.

But did you know that some insects also make great mothers? In their own way, many insects have some interesting motherly characteristics. Here are just a few insects that dedicate themselves to their offspring in fascinating ways, plus a couple of examples of poor insect mothers.

Great Mothers in the Bug World

Spiders

Okay, so spiders are technically arachnids, not bugs or insects, but that doesn’t make them poor mothers. Now, spiders can be creepy, but not all of them act that way when it comes to mothering. Many spider species actually take good care of their eggs before they hatch. Web-spinning spiders wrap their eggs in a protective cocoon that hangs in a safe and secure place on the web. When rival spiders come along the web, or if the eggs are in danger, the spider huddles around and defends her eggs.

The wolf spider is the only known spider that carries her eggs around with her. She gathers her eggs in a sac that she attaches to her spinnerets. After they hatch, she piles them on her back and carries them wherever she goes until they’re old enough to live on their own. A wolf spider can have hundreds of tiny spider babies hitching a ride on her at once.

Scorpions

Yeah, scorpions are also arachnids, not bugs or insects, but the desert scorpion and many other scorpion species also carry their young on their backs, just like wolf spiders. Unlike insects, scorpions are born live, not hatched from an egg. For their first two to four weeks of life, baby scorpions have very soft shells, which makes them vulnerable to attack and unable to move very well. So the mothers protect them by going everywhere with their young until they are ready to leave and live on their own.

Earwigs

Earwig mothers create elaborate nests for her eggs, a time-consuming job that takes up a lot of her energy. She guards her eggs there constantly while waiting for them to hatch. If she feels threatened, the mother will take the eggs with her and abandon all her hard work. She then makes a nest somewhere safer.

Wasps and Bees

Social wasp and bee colonies take great care of their young. Queen wasps spend the winter in a warm hiding spot until spring when they make a small nest and lay eggs. The queen spends all of her time looking for food for her larvae. After the first batch of eggs reaches adulthood, the queen spends more and more time in the nest, laying eggs and attending the nest. Eventually, all her daughters take over feeding the larvae and the queen lays eggs full-time.

Honey bees do something very similar. Typically, most of the hive will survive through the winter, so the queen doesn’t have to forage for food at all. Her daughters collect the food, guard the hive, and make the honey.

The old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” takes on a whole new meaning with bee and wasp colonies.

Ants and Termites

Both of these species act very similarly to wasps and honeybees when it comes to raising young. The queen spends all her time laying eggs, and the rest of the colony divides the duties. Some guard the nest, some care for the nursery, others maintain and expand their home. Every effort for survival revolves around the survival and rearing of the young.

Some kinds of ants and termites are known to be aggressive. However, if the nursery of eggs and larvae are threatened during the fight at any time, the ants will call off the fight and flee with the eggs until they find a safe place to settle down.

German Cockroaches

There’s a good reason cockroach populations explode quickly. Female German roaches carry their 30-40 eggs in a sac called an ootheca until she can find a good spot with plenty of food and water nearby. She then sticks the sac somewhere safe and out of sight where the baby roaches can safely hatch and easily find food.

Terrible Insect Mothers

Flies

Not much goes on inside a fly’s head, including when it’s time to lay eggs. The only effort flies make to rear their young is to lay the eggs in a spot where there’s food nearby. Some flies lay eggs in dumpsters or even in manure or dog poop.

Bed bugs

Most female bed bugs are barely aware of where they lay their eggs. They generally lay their eggs in whatever place they happen to be located at the time. Since bed bugs spend most of their time in mattress seams or in a tight corner, most of their eggs end up there. However, an egg could also be found in the open where predators could easily find it.

Cockroaches

Not all cockroaches are as motherly as German roaches, mentioned above as a fairly good motherly species. Although all roaches have a protective casing for their eggs, not all species carry the case around like the German cockroach. The most effort many roach species put into their young is to lay the egg casing in a hidden place with low lighting. After that, the babies are left to hatch and survive practically by themselves.

Fleas

These little pests put just as much thought into their offspring as flies or bed bugs do. While they feed on a host, a female flea produces eggs randomly. The eggs either remain in the host’s hair or fur, or the eggs drop off into the grass. The baby fleas have to learn to live on their own.

Thank You Mothers

As for us humans, mothers are vital to our development and survival. Whether your mother figure is your biological mother or another person who loves you as a mother, today is a great opportunity to give that special person your gratitude for her and everything she’s done for you.

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Posted on May 4, 2020.

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