The Best and Worst Fathers in the Animal Kingdom

Fathers are not only important among humans but are also valuable in the animal kingdom. The best fathers contribute to the safety, well being, and healthy development of their young. The worst fathers abandon, ignore, and even cannibalize their own young. Discover the best and worst fathers in the animal kingdom. Penguins and seahorses are among the best fathers, while bears and lions are among the worst.

Best Animal Fathers

  • Penguins
  • Seahorses
  • Frogs and Toads
  • Water Bugs

Worst Animal Fathers

  • Grizzly Bears
  • Assassin Bugs
  • Sand Goby Fish
  • Lions
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Emperor Penguin Chicks
Kim Westerskov/Getty Images

Male Emperor penguins are among the best fathers. When the female penguin lays her egg, she leaves it in the care of dad while she goes in search of food. Male penguins keep the egg safe from the icy cold elements of the Antarctic biome by keeping them nestled between their feet and covered with their brood pouch (feathery skin). The males may have to care for the eggs without eating themselves for as long as two months. Should the egg hatch before the female returns, the male feeds the chick and continues to protect it until mom returns.

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This male seahorse is carrying its developing young in its pouch.
Brandi Mueller/Getty Images

Male seahorses take fatherhood to a whole new level. They actually birth their young. Males have a pouch on the side of their bodies in which they fertilize eggs deposited by their female mate. A female seahorse can deposit thousands of eggs in the male's pouch. The male seahorse creates a favorable environment within the pouch that is optimal for the proper development of the eggs. Dad cares for the babies until they are fully formed, which can take as long as 45 days. The male then releases the tiny babies from his pouch into the surrounding aquatic environment.

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Frogs and Toads

Male dart frogs care for and protect their tadpoles by carrying them on their backs.
Kevin Schafer/Getty Images

Most male frogs and toads play a vital role in the development of their young. Male phantasmal poison-dart frogs guard the eggs laid by females after mating. As the eggs hatch, the resulting tadpoles will use their mouths to climb onto their dad's back. The male frog gives the tadpoles a "piggy-back" ride to a nearby pond where they can continue to mature and develop. In other species of frog, the male will protect the tadpoles by keeping them in their mouths. Male midwife toads care for and protect the string of eggs laid by the females by wrapping them around their hind legs. The males care for the eggs for a month or longer until they can find a safe body of water in which to deposit the eggs.

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Water Bugs

This image shows eggs glued to the back of a male giant water bug, Abedus indentatus. The females lay the eggs on the male's back.
Jaki good photography/Getty Images

Male giant water bugs ensure the safety of their young by carrying them on their backs. After mating with a female, the female lays her eggs (up to 150) on the back of the male. The eggs remain tightly attached to the male until they are ready to hatch. The male giant water bug carries the eggs on his back to ensure that they are kept safe from predators, mold, parasites, and to keep them aerated. Even after the eggs hatch, the male continues to care for his young for as long as two years.

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Worst Fathers in the Animal Kingdom - Grizzly Bears

Adult Male Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos)
Paul Souders/Getty Images

Male grizzly bears are among the worst animal fathers. Male grizzlies are solitary and spend much of their time alone in the forest, except when it is time for mating. Female grizzly bears tend to mate with more than one male during mating season and cubs from the same litter sometimes have different fathers. After mating season, the male continues his solitary life and leaves the female with the responsibility of raising any future cubs. In addition to being an absentee dad, male grizzlies will sometimes kill and eat cubs, even their own. Therefore, mother grizzlies become fiercely protective of their cubs when a male is near and tend to avoid males altogether when caring for young.

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Assassin Bugs

Male assassin bugs guard their eggs after mating. They also eat some of the eggs in the process.
Paul Starosta/Getty Images

Male assassin bugs actually protect their young after mating. They guard the eggs until they hatch. In the process of guarding the eggs however, the male will eat some of the eggs around the perimeter of the egg grouping. This action is considered a defense mechanism that protects the eggs in the center of the brood from parasites. It also provides the male with nutrients as he must forgo finding food while guarding the eggs. The male assassin bug abandons his young once hatched. The young assassin bugs are left to fend for themselves as female assassin bugs die soon after laying their eggs.

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Sand Goby Fish

Male sand gobies sometimes eat their young.
Reinhard Dirscherl/Getty Images

Male sand goby fish construct nests on the seabed to attract mates. After mating, they carefully tend to the eggs and hatchings when females are around. The males keep the nest clean and fan the eggs with their fins to ensure the young have a better chance of survival. These animal fathers however, have a tendency to eat some of the eggs in their care. Eating the larger eggs shortens the time that the males must guard their young as the larger eggs take more time to hatch than smaller ones. Some males behave even worse when females are not around. They leave their nests unattended and some even devour all of the eggs.

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This African lion cub is snuggling with his father. Female lions typically rear their young without much participation from the male.
Picture by Tambako the Jaguar/Getty Images

Male lions fiercely protect their pride from dangers on the savanna, such as hyenas and other male lions. They do not however, participate much in the rearing of their cubs. They spend most of their time sleeping while the female lions hunt and teach the cubs skills needed for survival. Male lions typically hog the food and the females and cubs can go hungry in times when prey is scarce. While male lions don't typically kill their own cubs, the have been known to kill cubs from other males when they take over a new pride.

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Your Citation
Bailey, Regina. "The Best and Worst Fathers in the Animal Kingdom." ThoughtCo, Sep. 15, 2021, Bailey, Regina. (2021, September 15). The Best and Worst Fathers in the Animal Kingdom. Retrieved from Bailey, Regina. "The Best and Worst Fathers in the Animal Kingdom." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).