The Myths Of The Maternal Instinct

Posted on May 9, 2006

Just in time for Mother's Day, The New York Times features a horrifying article about the myth that mothers naturally care for their offspring and will fight to protect them. Taking some really gross examples from the animal world, the articles details how animal mothers routinely kill, eat and abandon their young, and why nature set things up that way.
Among several mammals, including lions, mice and monkeys, females will either spontaneously abort their fetuses or abandon their newborns when times prove rocky or a new male swaggers into town.

Other mothers, like pandas, practice a postnatal form of family planning, giving birth to what may be thought of as an heir and a spare, and then, when the heir fares well, walking away from the spare with nary a fare-thee-well. "Pandas frequently give birth to twins, but they virtually never raise two babies," said Scott Forbes, a professor of biology at the University of Winnipeg. "This is the dark side of pandas, that they have two and throw one away."

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Unlike humans, Dr. Hardy said, the apes never abandon or reject their young, no matter how diseased or crippled a baby may be. Yet because female chimpanzees live in troops with other nonrelated females, a ravenous, lactating mother feels little compunction about killing and eating the child of a group mate. "It's a good way to get lipids," Dr. Hrdy said. As meal plans go, cannibalism can be no-muss, no-fuss.
Nooooo! Not the pandas!! Worst. Mother's Day. Feature. Ever.