10. ELEPHANTThe first mom on our list earns her spot for giving birth to the biggest babies on Earth — we’re talking an average of 200 pounds here! (Can you even imagine a diaper that large?) Female elephants also deserve a prize for enduring a 22-month pregnancy. The calves are initially born blind, forcing them to rely on their trunks for navigation and discovery, but fortunately, they live in a matriarchal society. Once the baby is born, the other “ladies” in the herd all lend a hand, including grandmothers, sisters, aunts and even cousins. These full-time baby-sitters are called “Allomothers,” and they help in every aspect of rearing the young calves — so in this case, it really does take a village to raise an elephant!
9. KOALANever agree to an eating competition with a female koala, as she only dines on one thing: highly poisonous eucalyptus leaves. Her digestive track can tolerate this otherwise deadly treat thanks to bowels that are packed with special bacteria that detoxify the leaves. Babies — or joeys — aren’t born with these superpowers (not to mention a lack of ears, eyes and fur), but Momma Koala comes to the rescue and helps them build up their tolerance by feeding them her own feces. Eesh — guess this puts a whole new spin on threatening to wash someone’s mouth out with soap. Once the joeys are born, they spend about six months inside their mother’s pouch feeding on milk and forming their missing parts. But this is a mom who won’t lose any sleep while nurturing: the female koala gets about 22 hours of shut-eye a day — that’s nearly 90 percent of her life spent snoozing!
8. ALLIGATOR Al Gore would be so proud — the female alligator has got to have one of the “greenest” pregnancies this side of the ozone. Her nest is a heap of rotting vegetation (the ultimate compost pile!) that produces heat so she doesn’t have to sit on her eggs. Scientists use special thermometers to monitor the two-month incubation period in these nests, and the heat does more than bring these babies to fruition. If the temperature is less than 88 degrees, break out the pink, but if it tops 91, it’s a boy! Once the babies are born, the mothers carry them around in their jaw for protection, assisting them to the water, where they will spend their first years eating fish, insects, snails and crustaceans. Wonder if that comes puréed?
7. POLAR BEAR Male polar bears are the kings of one-night stands. These Casanovas give females the cold shoulder after mating, leaving the moms-to-be to put on around 400 pounds during their pregnancy! That’s a lot of “baby weight,” but in this case, late-night cravings are encouraged — in fact, if the female doesn’t find enough food to double her weight, her body will actually reabsorb the fetus. Sound like something from a science fiction movie? It’s all too true. After she packs on the pounds, the polar bear has one of the easiest labors on record. She digs a maternity den (usually in a snowdrift), where she goes into a hibernation-like state, doesn’t eat for two months and also sleeps through the baby’s birth. Can you imagine? “Push!” “Zzzzzz.” “One more!” “Zzzzzz.” Newborns are blind and toothless, but super cute, and they generally stay by their mom’s side for just two years before being sent out on their own — sort of like condensing the toddler, tween and adolescence years. A todtweenscence, perhaps? Hmm.
6. CHEETAHPatience is a virtue, especially when it comes to being a cheetah mom. At any given time, females usually have four to six cubs to care for, but these kids aren’t born with survival instincts. It’s up to mom to teach them how to hunt prey and avoid other predators, and this training can take nearly two years to sink in and stick. Once the cubs learn to fend for themselves, Mom moves on to start a new family, while her offspring left behind form a sibling or “sib” group. The boys will stay together for life, but the females will leave the group six months or so later, as they tend to be solitary and avoid each other. Ladies, ladies, ladies — can’t we just all get along?
5. ORANGUTAN The highly intelligent orangutan is the ultimate do-it-yourself mom. She spends nearly all her life high up in the trees, where she builds a new nest every single night from branches and foliage, fashioning more than 30,000 homes in her lifetime! She also never puts her babies down, generally nursing offspring until they reach the age or 6 or 7 — that’s the longest dependence of any animal on Earth. For the most part, males come around only to mate, and even the baby boys break away more quickly from their mothers than their female counterparts, who often stay longer to learn child-rearing skills. Orangutan Home Ec, anyone?
4. RED-KNOBBED HORNBILL
Red-knobbed hornbills live on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where they utilize holes in trees as their nests. Their eggs are a favorite food of monitor lizards, so to combat these predators, the hornbills narrow the entryway to their nests with a very special sealant — their own feces. Now THAT should discourage any games of ding dong ditch! Momma Hornbill will stay in her hole for the entire two-month incubation period, ignoring any of her own hunger pains to her detriment (though one can imagine that the smell from her protection method would more or less kill anyone’s appetite).
3. ELEPHANT SEAL
This a woman who is large and in charge, as the female elephant seal generally weighs in at up to 1,700 pounds! However, that’s nothing compared to her male suitor, who is usually four times her size (and tends to get around town if you get the drift). Once pregnant, these moms-to-be immediately start to bulk up even more, putting on additional weight during every day of the 11-month gestation period. However, after giving birth, she’ll drop about 600 pounds while nursing her cubs in less than a month — sort of like all those Hollywood celebrity moms who get their shape back in a ridiculously short period of time (though that might have something to do with personal trainers and regimented meals as well).
2. OCTOPUS When it comes to having babies, the female octopus doesn’t mess around — she lays over 50,000 eggs, and that’s without any fertility drugs! It takes around 40 days for the eggs to develop before hatching, and the mom stays close to them the entire time, protecting them from predators while gently blowing currents of water over them to provide oxygen. But playing bodyguard to the eggs also prohibits her from hunting for herself, so what’s a mom to do? Well let’s see — with eight arms, surely that’s more than any octopus really needs, so what’s the harm in eating one? Pass the salt and pepper, please.
1. SEA LOUSESure, she may be just a small aquatic crustacean, but the female sea louse is No. 1 on our list and here’s why. First, she’s lured by the male into his bachelor burrow for mating where — surprise! — she discovers that she’s actually in a harem with 25 other pregnant females! If that wasn’t bad enough, once the babies are ready to be born, they make their way into the world by eating her from the inside out. Worst. Childbirth. Ever.