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Which Insects Make the Best Mothers?

Happy Mother’s Day! From whales to fish, baboons to lions, birds to lizards, arachnids to insects, all species of the animal kingdom have mothers. But not all mothers are as nurturing as others. Out of all the mothers in the world, none deserve higher praise than our own mothers and mother figures. Their countless hours of hard work, sleepless nights, thankless labor, hugs and kisses, and endless love make human mothers the crowned queens of motherhood.

Our mothers and mother figures are the best of them all, without a doubt. But did you know that some insects, bugs, and arachnids are surprisingly attentive to their young? It’s pretty amazing when you look into their nasty faces and many legs, but these bugs are more motherly than you might think.

These are just a few of the insects and arachnids that dedicate love and attention to their offspring. Just for fun, we’ve also added a few insects that aren’t good mothers at all.

Great Mothers of the Bug World

Spiders

Although these arachnids are pretty creepy, they’re also fairly good mothers. Web-spinning spiders wrap their eggs in silk and hang them in a safe corner of the web. If the eggs are threatened by another spider or an especially strong insect, the mother huddles around them and strikes at anything that comes too close. Some species of spiders will detach the sac from the web and carry the eggs to a safer place.

The wolf spider is the only spider in the world that carries her eggs with her everywhere she goes. Since she doesn’t spin a web or make tunnels in the ground, the mother spins a protective sac for her eggs and attaches them to her spinnerets until they hatch. When the baby spiders emerge, she piles them on her back, usually hundreds of them at a time. This slows her down, and she often goes hungry while she takes care of her young.

Scorpions

Did you know that scorpion babies are born alive? Unlike many other arachnids and most insects, scorpion babies are born directly into the open air. Their bodies are much too soft to walk far, which makes them unable to hunt and highly vulnerable to attack. So the mother carries them on her back — just like the wolf spider — until their exoskeletons harden and they’re old enough to take care of themselves.

Earwigs

That’s right, of all the bugs out there, earwigs make pretty good mothers! The females make an elaborate nest for her eggs, which uses up a lot of her time and energy. She stands close guard over them until they hatch, and then carefully helps them until they can take on the world by themselves.

If her nest is threatened by weather or predators, the mother earwig takes all her eggs away and moves. She abandons the nest and all the hard work she put into making it so that her eggs are safe. Then she makes an entirely new nest, putting a huge amount of work into protecting her brood.

Wasps and bees

Social insects like honeybees and wasps use a community approach to raising their babies. After the winter, most of the honeybee hive has survived by grouping together and vibrating their wings to keep warm. The queen doesn’t continue to lay eggs until the entire colony is comfortable again and the weather clears up. All the workers continue to gather nectar, make honey, guard the nest, and attend the queen.

Social wasps are similar, but their approach is a little different. Only the wasp queen survives through the winter by hiding in a safe, warm place. As the weather warms, the wasp queen buzzes around to find a good place to nest. All by herself, she finds a good nesting spot with plenty of food nearby, creates a small nest she can manage on her own and begins her new colony.

Wasp larvae only eat meaty foods like caterpillars and grasshoppers, so the queen divides her time between hunting, feeding herself, fixing the nest, and feeding the larvae. As the wasps grow into adults, her daughters gradually take over the hunting duties and guarding the nest. Eventually, the queen does nothing but lay eggs.

The mothering approach of social insects like wasps and honeybees gives a whole new perspective to the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Ants and Termites

These species are also social, just like wasps and bees. Each colony member divides the labor. Some care for the queen, others focus on the nursery, many go foraging for food, and some guard the nest. Every individual’s job is focused on raising and keeping the next generation alive.

Some species of ants and termites are very aggressive toward intruders or neighbors. But if the nursery is in danger at any time, the fight is called off right away and all the eggs and larvae are evacuated for their safety.

All social insects are like one many-legged, many-eyed animal with one focus: Feed and care for the next generation.

German Cockroach

Considering how disgusting these critters are, German cockroaches are surprisingly good at mothering. Females lay their 30-40 eggs in a casing called an ootheca, which she carries everywhere she goes. She looks for an area with plenty of food and water nearby and sets the sticky casing in a safe and secluded spot. The casing glues itself to the spot and pops open when the eggs hatch.

German cockroaches are social, which means the adults teach each other and the young roaches where to find food, areas to avoid, and good hiding places. No wonder German cockroach populations expand so quickly!

Horrible Insect Mothers

Flies

Without much of a brain to devote to their children’s survival, it’s no surprise that flies spend so little energy on motherhood. The only effort the female flies give to their offspring is to lay the eggs in a food source. Depending on the species, flies might lay eggs in the gunk gathered inside drain pipes, manure found out in fields, or dog poop.

Bed bugs

Female bed bugs usually don’t even realize they are giving birth. She devotes no thought at all to where she places her eggs, which could end up placed in the open where predators could easily find them. Since bed bugs spend most of their time hiding, most of her eggs end up in a safe spot by accident.

However, bed bugs have no concept of responsibility. They don’t do anything to give their offspring any life advantages on purpose. The baby bugs have to figure out life on their own.

Cockroaches

Not all species are as caring as German cockroaches. Few take the time to care for each other. Most of the time, juvenile cockroaches are left to fend for themselves.

Fleas

Fleas put even less effort into parenthood than flies or bed bugs. While feeding, fleas produce their eggs pretty much at random. The eggs either get stuck in the host’s fur or hair, or they end up on the ground, in the grass, or in the carpet. Larvae are forced to care for themselves. As far as fleas are concerned, their own larvae might as well be another species.

Thank you Mothers

Without our mothers, none of us would have survived long, and none of us would be the people we are today without them. Whether your mother is biologically related to you, or she is a special person who has played an important parental role in your life, all mothers deserve our love and appreciation. Thank you mothers, for everything you have done and continue to do for each of us.

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Posted on May 6, 2020.

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