Back to School

By Matt Seek | artwork by Mark Raithel | August 1, 2012
From Xplor: August/September 2012

Some little critters are born knowing how to survive. Others need to learn a few things before they’re able to make it on their own.

Swimming Lessons

It’s hard to believe, but river otters are born not knowing how to swim. It’s up to mom to teach them. Otter pups are often scared of water, so mom sometimes must pull them in. She patiently teaches each pup first to float, then swim, then dive. When the lesson is over, the pups return to the den for milk and a well-deserved nap.

Diving Practice

Peregrine falcons perform high-speed dives to snatch other birds in midair for dinner. This requires speed, agility and lightningquick reflexes. Young peregrines polish these skills with help from their parents. Once chicks learn to fly, parents hand food to them in midflight. When the youngsters get good at this, adults drop injured birds from above for the young peregrines to catch or dive after.

Furry Field Trip

A raccoon’s paw has 10 times more nerve endings than a human’s hand. But though they’re equipped with super-sensitive touch, young raccoons aren’t sure how to use it. So, when the kits are about 9 weeks old, mom takes them on a field trip. First stop is usually a pond or stream. There, mom uses her paws to feel for food underwater. The kits watch, and in no time they’re plucking up mussels and crayfish for supper.

Possum Bus

You might ride a bus to school. Baby opossums ride their mothers. Mama possums have about 10 babies at a time. The newborns are so tiny, all 10 could fit in a teaspoon. They crawl into their mom’s pouch—possums are related to kangaroos—and stay there for about 80 days. When the babies outgrow the pouch, they hitch rides on mom’s back, watching and learning as she looks for food.

Duckling Preschool

For ducklings, school begins even before they leave the egg. Mother mallards quack quietly as they incubate their eggs. When the ducklings hatch, they recognize their mother’s voice and know that’s who they need to follow to the marsh. Mom teaches her brood to swim by pushing the ducklings in or paddling away until the young follow. Unlike otters, once the ducklings hit water they know just what to do.

Food for Flight

Like most kids, young kingfishers sometimes don’t want to go to school. But learning to fly is important, so kingfisher parents resort to tough love. For about three days, mom and pop kingfisher quit bringing food to the young birds. Then the bribery begins. With a fish in its bill, an adult lands on a nearby perch and calls to the young. When the youngsters get hungry enough, they fly to the perch where they’re rewarded for their first flight with some tasty sushi.

Hide and Hunt

Red fox pups learn to hunt for grub by playing hide and seek. Fox parents bury extra food near the den. When the pups are out playing, they catch a whiff of something yummy and follow the scent to dig up a snack. When the pups are about 9 weeks old, the parents take them hunting. The pups watch carefully as mom and pop pounce upon rabbits and mice. Then the youngsters practice the same moves on smaller prey such as grasshoppers.


And More...

This Issue's Staff

David Besenger
Bonnie Chasteen
Chris Cloyd
Peg Craft
Brett Dufur
Les Fortenberry
Chris Haefke
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Kevin Lanahan
Kevin Muenks
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
Tim Smith
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White
Kipp Woods