Parental care

Parental care is a behavioural and evolutionary strategy adopted by some animals, making a parental investment into the evolutionary fitness of their offspring. This strategy involves devoting more effort to a relatively small number of offspring in order to improve offspring reproductive success and the overall fitness of the species; an opposite strategy is to produce a relatively large number of small offspring, often as eggs, and to invest little to no effort into rearing the young.

Although parental care increases the evolutionary fitness of the offspring receiving the care, parental care produces a cost for the parent organism.[1] Energy expended on caring for the offspring and lost mating opportunities are the main costs experienced.[2] Due to the associated costs, parental care will only evolve in a species from a previous condition of no parental care when the costs to the parent associated with providing the care are outweighed by the benefits to the offspring receiving the care.[3]

Parental care is seen in many insects, notably the social insects such as ants, bees and wasps; in certain fishes, such as the mouthbrooders; widely in birds; and especially widely in mammals, which share two major adaptations for care of the young, namely gestation (development of the embryo inside the mother's body) and production of milk.

Hirundo rustica (Linnaeus, 1758)
Swallow adult feeding begging young in the nest

In groups of animals

In insects

Potter Wasp building mud nest near completion
Potter wasp building mud nest for her offspring. Each nest is provisioned with food caught by the mother; one or more eggs are laid inside, and the nest is then sealed.

Some insects, but especially the Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps), invest substantial effort in caring for their young. The type and amount of care varies widely. Solitary wasps such as the potter wasps (Eumeninae) build nests for their young, provisioning them with food, often caterpillars, caught by the mother. The nests are then sealed, and the young live on the food until they leave the nest as adults.[4] In contrast, social wasps and honeybees raise young in substantial colonies, with eggs laid mainly by queens (mothers), and the young cared for mainly by workers (sisters of the young).[5]

Male giant water bug Abedus indentatus with eggs on his back

Outside the Hymenoptera, parental care is found among the burying beetles and the magnificent salt beetle.[6] Subdued forms of parental care are also seen in the Lepidoptera, as in butterflies that lay eggs where the offspring will be able to feed. Crickets have also been known to lay eggs in optimal environments for the young.

Many species of Hemiptera take care of the young. In the Belostomatidae family there are examples of paternal care, for instance in the genus Abedus.

In fish

Several different groups of fish have evolved parental care. The young may be guarded by either parent. Some fish such as pipefish, sea dragons and seahorses (Syngnathidae) have a form of male pregnancy, the female taking no part in caring for the young once she has laid her eggs.[7][8] Males in other species may take a role in guarding the eggs before they hatch.

Mouthbrooding is the care given by some groups of fish (and a few other animals such as Darwin's frog) to their offspring by holding them in their mouth for extended periods of time. Mouthbrooding has evolved independently in several different families of fish including the cardinalfish, sea catfish, bagrid catfish, cichlids, snakeheads, jawfishes, gouramis, and arowanas.[9]

In birds

Birds are distinctive in the way they care for their young. In over 90% of birds, both parents help to care for the young. This pattern may have originated in the stem reptiles (archosaurs) that gave rise to the birds, before they developed flight.[10] Most birds, including passerines (perching birds), have their young born blind, naked and helpless (altricial), totally dependent for their survival on parental care. The young are typically raised in a nest; the parents catch food and regurgitate it for the young. Some birds such as pigeons create a "crop milk" which they similarly regurgitate.[11] David Lack developed a hypothesis that clutch size has evolved in response to the costs of parental care known as Lack's principle. It has since seen modifications but is still used as a general model.

In mammals

Harbour seal breast feeding 1150144
Harbour seal mother suckling its young

All the higher mammals (excluding the monotremes, namely the echidna and the platypus) share two major adaptations for care of their young, namely gestation (development of the embryo inside the mother's body, followed by live birth) and production of milk. Many mammals exhibit further parental care, including building a nest, digging a burrow, or feeding and guarding their young, often for a prolonged period.[12]

In humans

Macedonia-02822 (10905803333)
Parenting is a central aspect of human life, here depicted in a statue in Macedonia.
Father and son surf lesson in Morro Bay, CA
Human parental care extends far beyond providing food and protection. Here a father teaches his son how to surf.

Parenting or child rearing in humans is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, financial, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. This goes far beyond anything found in other animals, including not only the provision of food, shelter, and protection from threats such as predators, but a prolonged period of support during which the child learns whatever is needed to live successfully in human society.[13]

In amphibians

Parental care after the laying of eggs has been observed in 5% of caecilian species, 18% of salamander species and 6% of frog species,[14] though this number is likely an underestimate due to taxonomic bias in research [15] and the cryptic nature of many species.[16] Six modes of parental care are recognized among the Amphibia, in different species: egg attendance, egg transport, tadpole attendance, tadpole transport, tadpole feeding, and internal gestation in the oviduct (viviparity and ovoviviparity).[17] Many species also care for offspring (either eggs or tadpoles) in specially adapted structures of their body. For example, the male pouched frog of eastern Australia protects tadpoles in pouches on the lateral surface of their skin,[18] the gastric-brooding frog raised tadpoles (and potentially eggs) in their stomach[19] and the common Suriname toad raises eggs embedded in the skin on its back.

In evolutionary biology

In evolutionary biology, parental investment is the expenditure of time and effort towards rearing offspring that benefits the offspring's evolutionary fitness at a cost to parents' ability to invest in other components of the species' fitness. Parental care comprises a part of one kind of reproductive strategy in which parents choose to give each of a relatively small number of offspring an increased chance of surviving to reproduce themselves, and may accordingly be accompanied by the production of a small number of zygotes at a time, possibly only one.[20][21]

Male parental care

The evolution of male parental care is particularly rare in non-monogamous species because predominantly, investing effort into mating is more evolutionarily-effective for males than providing parental care.[22][23] One hypothesis regarding the evolution of male parental care in non-monogamous species suggests that parental behavior is correlated with increased siring of offspring.[22] For instance, in mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei), males of the upper tertile, regarding their frequency of interaction with young gorillas, regardless of the young’s parentage, fathered five times more offspring than males of the lower-two affiliative tertiles.[22] Further, male burying beetles (Nicrophorus vespilloides) attracted three times more females when given the opportunity to breed and provide parental care compared to males that were not presented with a breeding opportunity.[23] Species such as Gorilla beringei and Nicrophorus vespilloides indicate that selection may promote male parental care in non-monogamous species.[22][23]

See also


  1. ^ Bednekoff, P. A. (2010). “Life Histories and Predation Risk”. Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior. Academic Press. pp. 285-286. ISBN 978-0-123-72581-3.
  2. ^ Fox, R. J.; Head, M. L.; Barber, I. (31 July 2018). “Good Parenting May Not Increase Reproductive Success Under Environmental Extremes”. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. doi:10.1111/jeb.13358.
  3. ^ Klug, H.; Bonsall, M. B. (12 May 2014). “What are the benefits of parental care? The importance of parental effects on developmental rate”. Ecology & Evolution. 4 (12): 2330–2351. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1083.
  4. ^ Grissell, E. E. (April 2007). "Potter wasps of Florida". University of Florida. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  5. ^ Wong, Janine W. Y.; Meunier, Joel; Molliker, Mathias (2013). "The evolution of parental care in insects: the roles of ecology, life history and the social environment". Ecological Entomology. 38 (2): 123–137. doi:10.1111/een.12000.
  6. ^ Susan Allport (1 April 2003). A Natural History of Parenting: A Naturalist Looks at Parenting in the Animal World and Ours. iUniverse. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978-0-595-27130-6.
  7. ^ Wilson, A. B.; Orr, J.W. (2011). "The evolutionary origins of Syngnathidae: pipefishes and seahorses". Journal of Fish Biology. 78 (6): 1603–1623. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8649.2011.02988.x. PMID 21651519.
  8. ^ Wilson, A. B.; Ahnesjo, I.; Vincent, A.; Meyer, A. (2003). "The dynamics of male brooding, mating patterns, and sex roles in pipefishes and seahorses (family syngnathidae)". Evolution. 57 (6): 1374–1386. doi:10.1111/j.0014-3820.2003.tb00345.x. PMID 12894945.
  9. ^ Helfman, G., Collette, B, Facey, D. (1997). The Diversity of Fishes. Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-86542-256-8.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Wesolowski, Tomasz (2004). "The origin of parental care in birds: a reassessment". Behavioral Ecology. 15 (3): 520–523. doi:10.1093/beheco/arh039.
  11. ^ Ehrlich, Paul R.; Dobkin, David S.; Wheye, Darryl (1988). "Parental Care". Stanford University. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  12. ^ David J. Gubernick (11 November 2013). Parental Care in Mammals. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-1-4613-3150-6.
  13. ^ Davies, Martin (2000). The Blackwell encyclopedia of social work. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-631-21451-9.
  14. ^ Crump, Martha L (1996). Parental care among the Amphibia. Advances in the Study of Behavior. 25. pp. 109–144. doi:10.1016/S0065-3454(08)60331-9. ISBN 9780120045259.
  15. ^ Stahlschmidt, Zachary R (2011). "Taxonomic Chauvinism Revisited: Insight from Parental Care Research". PLOS One. 6(8): e24192 (8): e24192. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024192. PMC 3164163. PMID 21904614.
  16. ^ Oneto, Fabrizio; Ottonello, Dario; Pastorino, Mauro Valerio; Salvidio, Sebastiano (December 2010). "Posthatching Parental Care in Salamanders Revealed by Infrared Video Surveillance". Journal of Herpetology. 44 (4): 649–653. doi:10.1670/09-181.1. JSTOR 40983661.
  17. ^ Crump, Martha L (1996). Parental care among the Amphibia. Advances in the Study of Behavior. 25. pp. 109–144. doi:10.1016/S0065-3454(08)60331-9. ISBN 9780120045259.
  18. ^ Anstis, Marion (2013). Tadpoles and Frogs of Australia. Sydney: New Holland Publishers. pp. 526–531. ISBN 9781921517167.
  19. ^ Anstis, Marion (2013). Tadpoles and Frogs of Australia. Sydney: New Holland Publishers. pp. 668–673. ISBN 9781921517167.
  20. ^ Gilbert, James (30 September 2013). "Evolution of Parental Care". Oxford Bibliographies. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  21. ^ Gilbert, James (23 May 2012). "Reproductive Allocation in Animals". Oxford Bibliographies. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  22. ^ a b c d Rosenbaum, S.; Vigilant, L.; Kuzawa, C.; Stoinski, T. (15 October 2018). “Caring for infants is associated with increased reproductive success for male mountain gorillas”. Scientific Reports. 8: 15223. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-33380-4.
  23. ^ a b c Chemnitz, J.; Bagrii, N.; Ayasse, M.; Steiger S. (01 February 2017). “Staying with the young enhances the fathers’ attractiveness in burying beetles”. Evolution. 71 (4): 985-994. doi:10.1111/evo.13194.

Actinopterygii (), or the ray-finned fishes, constitute a class or subclass of the bony fishes.The ray-finned fishes are so called because their fins are webs of skin supported by bony or horny spines ("rays"), as opposed to the fleshy, lobed fins that characterize the class Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish). These actinopterygian fin rays attach directly to the proximal or basal skeletal elements, the radials, which represent the link or connection between these fins and the internal skeleton (e.g., pelvic and pectoral girdles).

Numerically, actinopterygians are the dominant class of vertebrates, comprising nearly 99% of the over 30,000 species of fish. They are ubiquitous throughout freshwater and marine environments from the deep sea to the highest mountain streams. Extant species can range in size from Paedocypris, at 8 mm (0.3 in), to the massive ocean sunfish, at 2,300 kg (5,070 lb), and the long-bodied oarfish, at 11 m (36 ft).


Alloparenting (also referred to as alloparental care) is a term used to classify any form of parental care provided by an individual towards a non-descendent young. Non-descendent refers to any young who is not the direct genetic offspring of the individual, but does not exclude related young such as siblings or grandchildren. Individuals providing this care are referred to using the neutral term of alloparent (or 'helper').Alloparental care encapsulates a diverse range of parenting systems across a range of animal groups and social structures. The alloparent-young relationship can be mutualistic or parasitic, and between or within species. Cooperative breeding, joint brood care, reciprocal allonursing, brood parasitism and cuckoldry represent situations in which alloparenting plays a role.

Asiatic salamander

The Asiatic salamanders (family Hynobiidae) are primitive salamanders found all over Asia, and in European Russia. They are closely related to the giant salamanders (family Cryptobranchidae), with which they form the suborder Cryptobranchoidea. About half of hynobiids currently described are unique to Japan.Hynobiid salamanders practice external fertilization, or spawning. And, unlike other salamander families which reproduce internally, male hynobiids focus on egg sacs rather than females during breeding. The female lays two egg sacs at a time, each containing up to 70 eggs. Parental care is common.A few species have very reduced lungs, or no lungs at all. Larvae can sometimes have reduced external gills if they live in cold and very oxygen-rich water.

Behavioral ecology

Behavioral ecology, also spelled behavioural ecology, is the study of the evolutionary basis for animal behavior due to ecological pressures. Behavioral ecology emerged from ethology after Niko Tinbergen outlined four questions to address when studying animal behaviors that are the proximate causes, ontogeny, survival value, and phylogeny of behavior.

If an organism has a trait that provides a selective advantage (i.e., has adaptive significance) in its environment, then natural selection favors it. Adaptive significance refers to the expression of a trait that affects fitness, measured by an individual's reproductive success. Adaptive traits are those that produce more copies of the individual's genes in future generations. Maladaptive traits are those that leave fewer. For example, if a bird that can call more loudly attracts more mates, then a loud call is an adaptive trait for that species because a louder bird mates more frequently than less loud birds—thus sending more loud-calling genes into future generations.

Individuals are always in competition with others for limited resources, including food, territories, and mates. Conflict occurs between predators and prey, between rivals for mates, between siblings, mates, and even between parents and offspring.

Black musk deer

The black musk deer or dusky musk deer (Moschus fuscus) is a species of even-toed ungulate in the family Moschidae. It is found in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, and Nepal.

Brood parasite

Brood parasites are organisms that rely on others to raise their young. The strategy appears among birds, insects and some fish. The brood parasite manipulates a host, either of the same or of another species, to raise its young as if it were its own, using brood mimicry, for example by having eggs that resemble the host's (egg mimicry).

Brood parasitism relieves the parasitic parents from the investment of rearing young or building nests for the young, enabling them to spend more time on other activities such as foraging and producing further offspring. Bird parasite species mitigate the risk of egg loss by distributing eggs amongst a number of different hosts. As this behaviour damages the host, it often results in an evolutionary arms race between parasite and host as the pair of species coevolve.


Charadriiformes is a diverse order of small to medium-large birds. It includes about 350 species and has members in all parts of the world. Most Charadriiformes live near water and eat invertebrates or other small animals; however, some are pelagic (seabirds), some occupy deserts and a few are found in thick forest.


The Cimicomorpha are an infraorder of insects in the order Hemiptera, the true bugs. The rostrum and other morphology of all members apparently is adapted to feeding on animals as their prey or hosts. Members include bed bugs, bat bugs, assassin bugs, and pirate bugs.

The Cimicomorpha comprise an infraorder of the Heteroptera. The two infraorders Cimicomorpha and Pentatomorpha have very similar characteristics, possibly as a result of the evolution of plant feeding. The key similarity that unites the Cimicomorpha and Pentatomorpha is the loss of the arolia (adhesive pads) on the pretarsi of the insects. These two infraorders comprise 90% of Heteroptera species.

These insects are a part of the old, informal classification of “Geocorisae” (land bugs). Among these bugs, parental care has evolved several times. Parental care varies from brooding of the eggs by the female, to a more active form that involves protection of young against predators and the female covering the nymphs under her body.

Families include:

Anthocoridae – pirate bugs

Aradidae – flat bugs

Cimicidae – bed bugs







Miridae – plant bugs

Nabidae – damsel bugs



Polyctenidae – Old World bat bugs

Reduviidae – assassin bugs

Thaumastocoridae – royal palm bugs

Tingidae – lace bugs



A coucal is one of about 30 species of birds in the cuckoo family. All of them belong in the subfamily Centropodinae and the genus Centropus. Unlike many Old World cuckoos, coucals are not brood parasites, though they do have their own reproductive peculiarity: all members of the genus are to varying degrees sex-role reversed so that the smaller male provides most of the parental care. At least one coucal species, the black coucal, is polyandrous. Some species (Centropus phasianinus) have the male investing more in incubation and parental care. Recent DNA evidence suggests that they should be raised to family status, as Centropodidae.


The dunnock (Prunella modularis) is a small passerine, or perching bird, found throughout temperate Europe and into Asia. Dunnocks have also been successfully introduced into New Zealand. It is by far the most widespread member of the accentor family, which otherwise consists of mountain species. Other common names of the dunnock include the hedge accentor, hedge sparrow, or hedge warbler.


Fledging is the stage in a volant animal's life between hatching or parturition and flight.

This term is most frequently applied to birds, but is also used for bats. For altricial birds, those that spend more time in vulnerable condition in the nest, the nestling and fledging stage can be the same. For precocial birds, those that develop and leave the nest quickly, a short nestling stage precedes a longer fledging stage.All birds are considered to have fledged when the feathers and wing muscles are sufficiently developed for flight. A young bird that has recently fledged but is still dependent upon parental care and feeding is called a fledgling. People often want to help fledglings, as they appear vulnerable, but it is best to leave them alone. The USA National Phenology Network defines the phenophase (or life cycle stage) of fledged young for birds as "One or more young are seen recently departed from the nest. This includes young incapable of sustained flight and young which are still dependent on adults."

In many species, parents continue to care for their fledged young, either by leading them to food sources, or feeding them. Birds are vulnerable after they have left the nest, but before they can fly, though once fledged their chances of survival increase dramatically.One species, the ancient murrelet, fledges two days after hatching, running from its burrow to the ocean and its calling parents. Once it reaches the ocean, its parents care for it for several weeks. Other species, such as guillemots and terns, leave the nesting site while they are still unable to fly. The fledging behavior of the guillemot is spectacular; the adult leads the chick to the edge of the cliff, where the colony is located, and the chick will then launch itself off, attempting to fly as far as possible, before crash landing on the ocean.


Gouramis, or gouramies , are a group of freshwater anabantiform fishes that comprise the family Osphronemidae. The fish are native to Asia—from Pakistan and India to the Malay Archipelago and northeasterly towards Korea. The name "gourami", of Malay-Archipilago origin, is also used for fish of the families Helostomatidae and Anabantidae.

Many gouramis have an elongated, feeler-like ray at the front of each of their pelvic fins. All living species show parental care: some are mouthbrooders, and others, like the Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens), build bubble nests. Currently, about 133 species are recognised, placed in four subfamilies and about 15 genera.

The name Polyacanthidae has also been used for this family. Some fish now classified as gouramis were previously placed in family Anabantidae. The subfamily Belontiinae was recently demoted from the family Belontiidae. As labyrinth fishes, gouramis have a lung-like labyrinth organ that allows them to gulp air and use atmospheric oxygen. This organ is a vital innovation for fish that often inhabit warm, shallow, oxygen-poor water.

Human reproduction

Human reproduction is any form of sexual reproduction resulting in human fertilization, typically involving sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. During sexual intercourse, the interaction between the male and female reproductive systems results in fertilization of the woman's ovum by the man's sperm. These are specialized reproductive cells called gametes, created in a process called meiosis. While normal cells contains 46 chromosomes, 23 pairs, gamete cells only contain 23 chromosomes, and it is when these two cells merge into one zygote cell that genetic recombination occurs and the new zygote contains 23 chromosomes from each parent, giving them 23 pairs. A typical 9-month gestation period is followed by childbirth. The fertilization of the ovum may be achieved by artificial insemination methods, which do not involve sexual intercourse.

Parental care in birds

Parental care refers to the level of investment provided by the mother and the father to ensure development and survival of their offspring. In most birds, parents invest profoundly in their offspring as a mutual effort, making a majority of them socially monogamous for the duration of the breeding season. This happens regardless of whether there is a paternal uncertainty.

Parental investment

Parental investment, in evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology, is any parental expenditure (e.g. time, energy, resources) that benefits offspring. Parental investment may be performed by both males and females (biparental care), females alone (exclusive maternal care) or males alone (exclusive paternal care). Care can be provided at any stage of the offspring's life, from pre-natal (e.g. egg guarding and incubation in birds, and placental nourishment in mammals) to post-natal (e.g. food provisioning and protection of offspring).

Parental investment theory, a term coined by Robert Trivers in 1972, predicts that the sex that invests more in its offspring will be more selective when choosing a mate, and the less-investing sex will have intra-sexual competition for access to mates. This theory has been influential in explaining sex differences in sexual selection and mate preferences, throughout the animal kingdom and in humans.


Parenting or child rearing is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Parenting refers to the intricacies of raising a child and not exclusively to the biological relationship.The most common caretaker in parenting is the biological parent(s) of the child in question, although others may be an older sibling, a grandparent, a legal guardian, aunt, uncle or other family member, or a family friend. Governments and society may also have a role in child-rearing. In many cases, orphaned or abandoned children receive parental care from non-parent blood relations. Others may be adopted, raised in foster care, or placed in an orphanage. Parenting skills vary, and a parent with good parenting skills may be referred to as a good parent.Parenting styles vary by historical time period, race/ethnicity, social class, and other social features. Additionally, research has supported that parental history both in terms of attachments of varying quality as well as parental psychopathology, particularly in the wake of adverse experiences, can strongly influence parental sensitivity and child outcomes.


Pissarrachampsa (meaning "piçarra [the local name for the sandstones it was recovered from] crocodile") is an extinct genus of baurusuchid mesoeucrocodylian from the Late Cretaceous of Brazil. It is based on a nearly complete skull and a referred partial skull and lower jaw from the ?Campanian - ?Maastrichtian-age Vale do Rio do Peixe Formation of the Bauru Group, found in the vicinity of Gurinhatã, Brazil.

Polygyny in animals

Polygyny (; from Neo-Greek πολυγυνία from πολύ- poly- "many", and γυνή gyne "woman" or "wife") is a mating system in which one male lives and mates with multiple females, but each female only mates with a single male. Systems where several females mate with several males are defined either as promiscuity or polygynandry. Lek mating is frequently regarded as a form of polygyny because one male mates with many females, but lek-based mating systems differ in that the male has no attachment to the females with whom he mates, and that mating females lack attachment to one another.Polygyny is typical of one-male, multi-female groups and can be found in many species including: elephant seal, gorilla, red-winged warbler, house wren, hamadryas baboon, common pheasant, red deer, Bengal tiger, Xylocopa varipuncta, Anthidium manicatum and elk. Oftentimes in polygynous systems, females will provide the majority of parental care.


Silphidae is a family of beetles that are known commonly as large carrion beetles, carrion beetles or burying beetles. There are two subfamilies: Silphinae and Nicrophorinae. Nicrophorines are sometimes known as sexton beetles. The number of species is relatively small and around two hundred. They are more diverse in the temperate region although a few tropical endemics are known. Both subfamilies feed on decaying organic matter such as dead animals. The subfamilies differ in which uses parental care and which types of carcasses they prefer. Silphidae are considered to be of importance to forensic entomologists because when they are found on a decaying body they are used to help estimate a post-mortem interval.

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