PacSci Blog

Myriad Mothers

May 8, 2019

Mother of Millions

Mother of Millions


Calling all nymphs, grubs, shoots, and seedlings: Mother’s Day is right around the corner and it’s time to celebrate! PacSci is chock full of mothers— and not just the ones pushing strollers through our scenic courtyard. Visit our Living Exhibits to discover unique examples of motherhood that you won’t find anywhere else. While these lovely ladies don’t rank as the top ten role models for human moms, every species is a testament to its own successful method of reproduction.

For example, most babies wouldn’t appreciate being tossed onto the forest floor and subsequently carried away by ants, but that’s exactly how the Australian prickly stick insect has been dispersing its eggs for generations. It may seem harsh, but the egg is coated in tasty, non-essential protein precisely so that it will be stored with other food in the safety of the ant nest. Prickly sticks have a busy schedule, so this underground daycare is the perfect solution.

The Australian prickly stick isn’t the only parent who prefers a hands-off approach. For the African succulent, mother of millions, tiny plantlets develop along the edge of the leaf like a decorative frill, only to fall off completely once they’re big enough. Bye, kids!

The New Guinea spiny stick hides its eggs in the cozy topsoil with its ovipositor and carries on with life. Nice not-knowing you.

The white-eyed assassin bug stays uninvolved for a very good reason: its predatory instinct is so strong that the young can be subject to accidental cannibalism. Why mother, what a big rostrum you have! This isn’t a common occurrence, but we keep our nymphs separated from the adults just in case.

On the other hand, we have parents who can’t bear to let go of their babies. The strawberry plant is especially clingy. It sends out runners—little underground shoots—that stay connected to the mother plant for their whole life. Of course, strawberries also have seeds. Some kids are just more independent than others.

Vietnamese walking sticks are also clingy, but they latch onto the bodies and legs of any adult, not just mom!

The award for the most involved mother goes to the Madagascar hissing cockroach. The humble cockroach has a rough reputation, but these creatures are surprisingly social. Young nymphs hatch inside the mother, creating the illusion of a live birth. After emerging, they stay close to their mom, who protects and feeds them. In the earliest stages, she secretes a special liquid—one hesitates to call it “cockroach milk,” but it serves the same purpose—to feed the nymphs and keep their immune systems healthy. When you visit their enclosure, take a closer look: the babies may be hiding underneath the mother for extra love and protection.

Regardless of whether these motherhood techniques align with our human standards of care, they have sustained their species for thousands of years. Visit PacSci this weekend and give some well-deserved recognition to all the diverse moms who make our lives so special.

For even more info on the importance of motherhood at Pacific Science Center, check out the quick PacSci Podcast below.