A Canadian biologist and mother of four offers a zoological survey of motherhood in the wild.
Using a wealth of research on instinctual behaviors, Bondar (Wild Sex: The Science Behind Mating in the Animal Kingdom, 2016) hopes new lessons can be learned about the human species through the examination of wild animals and their processes of parenthood. As numerous as they are diverse, there are no wrong approaches to the multifaceted business of motherhood. These diverse processes encompass the “broadcast spawning” of aquatic animals and the oviparity of amphibians, but the author also discusses the complicated factors associated with the egg-laying systems of certain bird species and the intrusive deceit of nest parasitism, in which a menacing foreign species deposits eggs into another nest to be hatched. Bondar also introduces readers to female mammals within the animal kingdom who must jockey for the prized social positioning necessary for even a chance at reproduction, meerkats that adopt a complex hierarchy of dominance to achieve this particular goal, and female hyenas whose retractable “pseudopenises” make gender recognition virtually impossible. From conception to birth, the author vibrantly analyzes a wide array of breeding practices and rearing methods from the cooperative to the communal; each is intriguing, unique, and “evolutionarily stable and successful.” Some of these reproductive enigmas and oddities are positively captivating. For example, many mammalian and primate females can enact a suspended animation state of gestational “diapause” until environmental conditions become optimal for birthing; toothed whales are the only other group of animals that experience menopause “to the extent that humans do.” Throughout, the author stresses how many issues that arise within the animal kingdom occur just as naturally in human child-rearing as well. The heartbreaking closing chapter on grieving animal mothers is especially poignant, providing an illuminating coda to this literary embrace of parenthood in the wild kingdom.
A study brimming with endlessly fascinating fodder for animal lovers.