Nature's 10 Best Animal Dads

Here's to you, Pops

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Let’s face it: When it comes to paternal instincts in the animal kingdom, there are more than a couple of lousy dads.

In the natural world, a majority of dad critters are programmed to follow the familiar "dude meets lady; dude impregnates lady; dude leaves lady (if he hasn't already) and their new offspring to go meet and impregnate new ladies" mating ritual. It's all about the act of producing as many heirs as possible and not about sticking around.

However, there are some exceptions to the father non grata theme that dominate the animal kingdom parenting scene. In fact, in some species, the proud father plays an integral role in raising the young along with — or sometimes in place of — the mother.

With Father's Day around the corner, we thought we'd celebrate a few standout fauna fathers who prove to be an exception to the prevalent "most animals are crappy dads" rule. Non-deadbeat dads of the animal kingdom, we salute you.


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Seahorses are unique because they belong to a fish family known for an oddity: male pregnancy.

Male seahorses have a pouch where females deposit their eggs. Once deposited, the male fertilizes the eggs and incubates them for a period of up to 45 days, until they emerge as fully developed little seahorses. Seahorse fathers even experience contractions as they give birth.


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Sure, the small and furry tree-dwelling primates known as marmosets are outrageously cute, but male marmosets take their roles as fathers very seriously. With the help of other family members, including older siblings, the typical marmoset dad grooms, feeds and give his infants piggyback rides while momma marmoset steps away and takes on a decidedly “disinterested” parenting role after a few weeks. Marmoset fathers will often act as attentive midwifes during the birth of their newborns, going as far to clean up the afterbirth and bite off the umbilical cord.

Jeff French, primatologist at the University of Nebraska Zoo, tells National Geographic that one reason the marmoset daddy is so involved is because of the tremendous physical strain put on the expectant mother. "It's like a 120-pound (55-kilogram) woman giving birth to a 30-pound (14-kilogram) baby," explains French.


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Male jacanas do all the hard work of making the nests, incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks. While female jacanas gallivant around and mate with as many males as they can, the males make for loyal homemakers, even choosing to stay with the nest long after females have left on their migration. They're such loyal fathers that they often even care for eggs fertilized by other males.


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Father arowanas exhibit some of the most extensive paternal care among fish. Aside from building nests for their young and protecting them after they hatch, arowanas are also notable for being mouthbrooders.

Some arowana fathers harbor hundreds of baby fish in their mouths, letting them out on occasion to explore. However, the dad always takes special care to seek out each one and suck them back into his mouth to keep them safe from predators. (Check out this video showcasing a protective mouthbrooding arowana).


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Much like the emperor penguin, the rhea is a large, flightless species of bird in which the male dutifully incubates the female's eggs until they hatch. But this is where any similarities to the monogamous emperor penguin end. The male rhea, an ostrich look-alike and member of the ratite family, is a rampant polygamist that keeps a harem of up to 12 available females.

Despite his wandering eye and many mates, male rheas aren't deadbeat dads in the least. In addition to incubating as many as 50 eggs at a time for six weeks, the daddy rhea is in charge of nest-building and is responsible for raising the chicks for the first six months without any assistance from multiple mothers. If anything threatens daddy's precious little ones — be it a human or a female rhea — he won’t hesitate to charge.


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They may not be the prettiest of animals, but little lumpsuckers are always beautiful in their daddy's eyes. Lumpsucker fathers are particularly notable for their dedication in looking over their brood until the eggs hatch.

The father uses his modified pelvic fins, which have essentially evolved into suction cups, to glue himself to a surface near the eggs. There he sits and watches over his spawn until they hatch. Predators are met with a fierce display of protectiveness if any attempt is made to harm the eggs.

Frog and toad

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Perhaps no group of animals contains so many dedicated fathers as frogs and toads. There are frog fathers that carry their tadpoles in their mouths, often refusing to eat until the tadpoles are old enough to survive on their own. Other frog fathers embed their spawn inside their skin, often on their backs or legs, such as with the aptly named midwife toad (pictured).

One frog species, called the pouched frog, has males that harbor a specialized pouch to carry the young while they mature, much as female marsupial mammals do. Who knew amphibians made such incredible dads?

Emperor penguin

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There are few examples in nature of a father more dedicated than the emperor penguin. After the female lays the egg, her nutritional reserves become depleted and she must return to feed in the ocean for two months. This leaves the responsibility of keeping the egg warm through the freezing Antarctic winter to the father.

The father spends two months holding the egg precariously between the tops of his feet and his brooding pouch, without feeding, throughout the brutal winter (when freezing winds can reach 120 mph). If he moves too suddenly or the egg becomes exposed to the freezing temperatures, the chick will perish. But his dedication — and his balance — ensures the survival of a new generation. What a dad!

Giant water bug

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Those aren't ordinary lumps on the back of this male water bug — those are his children! Giant water bugs display the most dedicated paternal care in the insect world by carrying the eggs on their wings until they hatch.

You'll want to avoid messing with a water bug father because he can deliver one of the most painful bites among insects (which explains why this bug is sometimes called a "toe-biter"). For these dads, it's all about protecting themselves and their eggs.


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Despite their fearsome reputation as apex predators, male wolves are attentive, monogamous and fiercely protective dads that live with their she-wolves for life. A wolf pack is essentially a classic nuclear family consisting of a mom, dad and kids.

After a female wolf gives birth, she sticks close to her helpless pups and doesn't leave her den for several weeks. Dad stands guard and hunts for food to share with his new family, and doesn't skimp when it comes to sharing edibles with his progeny. Whereas a female wolf will regurgitate meat to share with a litter (pups can start eating meat at three weeks), dad will provide entire pieces of fresh kill. As a young pup grows, dad takes on the role of stern, sometimes playful mentor, helping integrate the pup into the pack.