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Spiny Anteater Gets a Breeding Boost

Conservationists hope the success of a partnership between a university and a wildlife sanctuary can save the endangered animal.

The endangered long-beaked echidna, or spiny anteater, may have help on the way, thanks to the success of a breeding program between a university and a wildlife preserve in Australia.

The University of Queensland (UQ) and the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary announced that they have worked together to produce 14 short-beaked echidna babies in captivity in the last five years, a number higher than any zoo has been able to produce.

"Up to a few years ago it was thought almost impossible to breed echidnas in captivity, and most births were somewhat accidental and unplanned," UQ Associate Professor Stephen Johnston said.

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The news is welcome to a relative of the animals. While the short-beaked echidna is considered relatively common in Australia, its cousin, the long-beaked variety, is in trouble.

The long-beaked echidna lives in New Guinea and Indonesia, and its numbers have grown smaller thanks to its being hunted for food and a loss of its habitat due to development.

Echidnas, along with the duck-billed platypus, are the only remaining mammals that lay eggs. The hope is that as UQ and Currumbin continue to hone their breeding of short-beaked echidnas, they can use the information to help the endangered long-beaks.

"We now have a better understanding of the echidna's temperature regulation requirements," Johnston explained, "and we are seeking to identify what hormones are involved at different stages of the females' breeding cycle."

"It's so important now we use what we have learned to make a real difference to conservation and the plight of the long-beaked echidna from Papua New Guinea," said Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary official Michael Pyne.

An echidna baby gets some attention at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Just the simple act of picking up and holding a baby can calm a youngster down, as mothers know, so moms who regularly carry their progeny are providing extra care, safety and comfort. As a result, infants -- be they human babies or young opossums like these -- usually go into a deep state of relaxation when mom carries them around, several studies show. "This infant response reduces maternal burden of carrying and is beneficial for both the mother and the infant," explained Kumi Kuroda of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, whose findings were published in the journal Current Biology. Nevertheless, this opossum mother must expend considerable time and energy hauling around her litter. Such litters usually consist of eight to nine young, and adult females may reproduce up to three times each year.

Photos: Bad Animal Mothers

No one wants to mess with a female wolf spider that has just laid dozens of eggs. These moms aggressively guard their egg sacs, which are attached to the mother spider's spinnerets (silk-producing organs). Once the eggs hatch, the hundreds of spiderlings climb on to their mother's back. She must then carry them around for several days before the spiderlings mature and can go off on their own.

Mom of the Year? Mother Spider Feeds Self to Babies

Gorillas are the world's largest primates, according to information provided by the Bronx Zoo. Adults usually weigh hundreds of pounds, with many being as tall as basketball stars. Their infants only weigh about 4 to 5 pounds at birth, but they grow fast, as this youngster demonstrates. The young of many primates have grasping hands and feet at birth, allowing them to cling to their mom's fur. Gorillas, chimps and humans, however, must provide extra support, helping to hold their youths up until tiny hands and feet grow stronger.

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Humans forever worry about their weight, but for this polar bear cub and mother, life is mostly about fat, according to researcher Eline Lorenzen of UC Berkeley. "The life of a polar bear revolves around fat," Lorenzen explained."Nursing cubs rely on milk that can be up to 30 percent fat and adults eat primarily blubber of marine mammal prey. Polar bears have large fat deposits under their skin and, because they essentially live in a polar desert and don't have access to fresh water for most of the year, rely on metabolic water, which is a byproduct of the breakdown of fat."

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The loon chicks in this photo are demonstrating "backriding." They and other young birds sometimes do this because it can be weary work keeping up with adults, Sigurd Olson of Northland College's Environmental Institute shared. Backriding isn't just a free ride. It also helps to keep the chicks warm and protected from both flying and underwater predators.

This photo zeroes in on the baby anteater snoozing on its mom's back, but if you or a predator were to view the scene from afar, you might just think that the baby was part of mom's fur. That is because some mothers sport fur (or, in the case of birds, feathers) that helps to camouflage the precious cargo.

New Baby Anteater Clings to Mom at Denver Zoo

Baby takins enjoy takin' naps on mom, who functions like a big, warm security blanket. Takins, also called gnu goats, are hooved animals that look like a cross between a goat and an antelope. Takin calves can climb rocks and head butt when they are just 2 weeks old, according to a San Diego Zoo fact sheet. They may also begin to develop horns by 6 months, so the calf shown here must be younger. Even though the calves are pretty self sufficient, most stick close to mom's side until she essentially kicks them out to make way for the next calf or calves (if she has twins).

Sea otter moms collectively deserve Mother of the Year awards because they truly give it all for their pups. Mothers must find twice as much prey every day to feed themselves and their pups. Moms also often function like living rafts, transporting their pups across bodies of water, sometimes even while the pup is nursing, as the one shown here is doing. Sadly, many sea otter mothers die after they wean their pups. While sea otters are incredibly social and playful animals, they are the smallest marine mammals and they live in cold coastal waters. They have thick fur, but no insulating layer of blubber. UC Santa Cruz biologist Nicole Thometz explained that the "fundamentally high energy demands are likely the underlying reason why we see so much mortality among prime age females in the middle of their range, where the density of the sea otter population is highest and resources are limited."

The Other Side of Otters

Lemur mothers are some of the toughest in the animal kingdom. Marie Charpentier of the National Center for Scientific Research in France and her colleagues found that female lemurs compete with one another for first dibs on food and chase away males at mealtimes, sometimes lunging or snapping at each other with their sharp canine teeth. When they communicate (with a look or vocalization) something like "Don't you dare hurt my baby," the individual had better take the threat seriously, especially if the mom is older. Charpentier and her team determined that infants born to older lemur moms are less likely to get hurt than those born to younger mothers. As for why, it's probably because the more seasoned moms have done and seen it all. They are therefore probably better at protecting their vulnerable infants.

Lemur Hibernation May Hold Clues to Longer Life

While human mothers may not haul around hundreds of youngsters, as wolf spiders and certain other species do, they do their fair share of baby toting. Consider that human moms must first carry a developing fetus for around 9 months. After birth, it then takes another 8 to 18 months before the baby takes his or her first independent steps. The importance of this motherly investment has raised many questions. Could group cooperation have evolved because moms needed help obtaining food? Did women grow long hair so that babies could grab on to it for extra body support when being carried? Could walking on two legs have emerged to facilitate humans carrying hefty babies? The answers to these questions and other related ones are still debated, but one thing is clear -- human moms are some of the hardest workers among all primates.

Photos: Prehistoric Moms Had Their Hands Full