Five of Britain’s remarkable wild fathers

Father’s day is just around the corner and we’ve taken some time to look at some of the more remarkable paternal roles, for good and bad, in British wildlife.

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Father’s day is just around the corner and we’ve taken some time to look at some of the more remarkable paternal roles, for good and bad, in British wildlife.

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Seahorses

wild seahorse in the sea

The male seahorse famously gestates and gives birth to his young. The eggs are passed from the female to the male during copulation, and the male self-fertilises them in his pouch.

However, seahorses are not the most caring of fathers. Once the arduous birthing process is over, the baby seahorses, known as fry, are left to fend for themselves.

They battle the elements and predators, floating around in the plankton layer of the oceans for the first few weeks of their lives. Only on in a thousand will survive to adulthood.

After years of searching, the British Seahorse Survey found and catalogued a baby seahorse in British waters back in 2010.

Perhaps commonly thought of as exotic and tropical creatures, in fact two species of seahorse inhabit the sea around the British Isles, the spiny seahorse and the short-snouted seahorse.

Guillemots

Guillemots and chicks

The common guillemot male will nurture and protect his fledging chick at sea, after sharing incubation duties with the mother – with whom he has mated for life.

Incubation is similar to that of penguins in that the egg is not laid in a nest and is kept warm by balancing the egg on the parents’ feet and covering it with their downy bellies.

Chicks leave the after around 20 days, but that doesn’t mean the end of the male’s paternal duties. He will stay close to the youngster for a couple of months after it has fledged, feeding a teaching it until it is able to fly and fend for itself. It will then be two years before the young guillemot will return to land.

Bottlenose dolphins

Dolphin hunting fish at Chanonry Point, Scotland

Bottlenose dolphins are fairly awful fathers.

Commonly found living alone, male bottlenoses begin to congregate and work in groups in the build up to mating season.

They will often work together to limit the movement of a female, effectively trapping them in a certain part of the ocean, often for weeks at a time.

This way the males all secure a mate and do their best to ensure the females are not available to other males outside the captors’ group.

Once they have mated, the male dolphin will often return to its loner lifestyle.

However, they have been known to kill their young and other species’ infants.

Red foxes

Red fox, Vulpes

Some of the most successful parents in wildlife are the foxes. As a species, they have inhabited every continent and habitat from the Arctic to the deserts of North Africa.

In Britain, foxes inhabit the countryside and urban areas with huge success, particularly in our cities. Mating occurs in January, and the kits arrive in March.

Foxes stick to more traditional gender roles than some of the other species on this list, but the fathers play a key role.

The vixens rear the young, while the male is out hunting food for the family. However, when they are old enough to leave the den the male becomes much more paws on, teaching them how to hunt and all the skills they will need to survive.

Three-spined stickleback

The traditional tiddler of British lakes, rivers and ponds, the three-spined stickleback is an aggressive predator, feeding on invertebrates and other small animals including tadpoles and smaller fish.

However, that tough attitude soon changes when the male starts feeling broody.

Not only does he start dressing to impress with a bright red throat and belly developing in the spring, he starts busting some serious dad-dancing moves in order to attract a mate.

Once he’s wowed a female with his rhythm, he sets to work building a sheltered nest out of vegetation. It is here that the female will lay up to 400 eggs.

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The male then remains dedicated to the nest, defending the eggs from other hungry predators until the young hatch up to four weeks later.