WILD RIDE Children

Feeding young wild ones

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How do baby animals get the nutrition they need to grow? Their parents take care of that, just like yours do. But, unlike humans not everything is possible for animals, so they have to be ingenious. Let’s see how they go about it.

We know that babies cannot eat and digest the kind of food adults can. We give them milk or special baby food. Did you know that many wild creatures too feed their young with natural baby food?

Among insects, harvester ants grow a special fungal garden inside their underground homes. How do the ants grow this fungus? By chewing on seeds after removing the husk and allowing their own saliva to mix with the mushy mash. This is rolled into balls on which the nutritious fungus grows.

Feeding young wild ones

Have you ever noticed the bright yellow pollen baskets on the hind legs of honey bees? It is into these baskets that honey bees stuff pollen from flowers when they go nectar-hunting. Back at the hive, the pollen is passed on to worker bees who play the role of chefs. The chefs convert pollen into bee bread for the babies. But strangely enough, there is caste discrimination among bees too. Bee bread is considered unfit for the queen bee’s babies. The royalty, if you please, is fed on special ‘Royal Jelly’. The reason: royal jelly helps the queen’s babies to grow into queen bees not worker bees.

Feeding young wild ones

Wasps are notorious for being ‘sinister’ mothers. They inject venom into hapless spiders or caterpillars that paralyses them. The victim is then dragged into a tiny underground burrow or a cell made of some kind of ‘paper’ by the wasp itself. Here the wasp lays her eggs too before sealing the cell. The wasp’s young ones, on being born, have enough food — the living tissues of the paralysed caterpillar or spider — to last them until they are old enough to break their way out and fend for themselves. Sounds gruesome? Well, it is all a labour for love.

In a nest

Feeding young wild ones

However, strange as it may sound, pigeons, flamingos and emperor penguins feed their chicks ‘milk’. This milky secretion is formed in their crop. The young chick probes its beak deep into the mother’s mouth to suck up the milk.

As soon as a chick hatches from its egg it opens wide its beak to expose its bright red gape. This stimulates the mother bird into action. Off she flies, hunting for worms, insects or seeds as the case may be. But before it is regurgitated into the baby’s mouth, she makes it soft and partially digested in her own body.

Feeding young wild ones

All mammals, we know, suckle their babies. But amongst koala bears, even after being weaned off milk, the older ones are fed something that will make you say ‘yuck’. The mother offers her joey her pap which is nothing but her own poop after she has chewed and swallowed a mouthful of eucalyptus leaves. This is because in her stomach, the poison in the eucalyptus gets separated, making it safer for her young.

Indeed, you will agree, nature can astound us with her strange ways — all with good reason.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 7:55:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/feeding-young-wild-ones/article24879784.ece

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