While some animal dads walk out the door the moment fertilization is complete,
these fawning fathers take an extraordinary role in siring their children. Sometimes
that means forgoing food for months or --gasp! -- getting pregnant. Hats off
to these zealous fathers!
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While mom is off feasting in the bountiful ocean, the chivalrous emperor penguin dad braves the frigid Antarctic winter, without a bite to eat for two months, to incubate his mate's single egg. Though the male penguins start the wintry season quite rotund--with three to four inches of body fat--they lose up to 50 percent of their body weight in the ensuing months, all for the sake of junior. Each egg is poised precariously on dad's feathered n' webbed feet and covered by a cuddly warm flap of skin. Backsides to the frosty air, hundreds to thousands of emperor penguin dads cloister together in a continuously inward-rotating circle. When the chicks peck their way into the world, the moms return as if on cue. If mom is late, the incubating dad can produce a curd-like substance from his esophagus to feed the chick. Finally, poor dad, starved and exhausted, gets belly down and toboggans across the ice and snow until he reaches the sea. Ah, the sea! With a glorious jump, he is back in the presence of the abundant fish and squid of the Antarctic waters.
But he's not gone forever. Once satiated, he returns to camp so he can regurgitate some of his dinner for his darling progeny.
After mom lays the eggs, dad quietly gulps them into his mouth, where they'll remain until they hatch. During incubation, dad must refuse food, but he occasionally "yawns" to reorganize the egg packet. According to Dex Hinckley, a volunteer at the National Museum of Natural History, a cardinalfish male in the Indo-Pacific tank took up some fertilized eggs, then promptly spit them back out, and other fish in the tank devoured them. Hinkly jokes, "The female is not speaking to him!" Unlike other cardinalfish species, the banggai cardinalfish male also protects the newly hatched fish in his mouth after hatching. Little fishy eyes peer into the great beyond whenever dad opens his mouth, darting out, then quickly back inside. About 25 days after taking in the eggs, dad gets fed up and spits them all out. Banaggai cardinalfish, native to Indonesian coral reefs, were thought extinct until 1992.
Which animal species most resembles your fantasy of the ultimate dad? Your vote and those of your fellow Web judges will be tabulated instantly when you submit your choice below. Award the Mister Mom Medal now!