Which Animals Make the Worst Mothers?

Discover the world’s worst animal mothers – from cannibalistic hamsters and preferential pandas to harp seals with a tendency to abandon their babies.

Oct 5, 2023byNatasha Elder
which animals make worst mothers

When we think of motherhood in animals, wholesome and heartwarming images of motherly licks and nuzzles and fierce displays of protection likely come to mind. But in reality, this is often not the case in nature as the maternal instinct, as we humans know it, is lacking in several animal species.

This blog post will explore the fascinating world of bad animal moms and the reasons behind their questionable parenting methods, so let’s read on.

Harp Seals

harp seal laying iceberg arctic
Image credit: J Yeo on Unsplash

Here are some interesting facts about the harp seal: it’s a majestic creature that lives in the Arctic Ocean, feasts on more than 130 types of fish, dives up to 1,300 feet below the surface, measures in at up to 6 feet long, and lives up to 30 years of age. Here’s another: it is one of the worst animal mothers on the planet.

Surprisingly, the harp seal is a great mother while she’s pregnant and for the first few days after giving birth to her pup. During this time, she will cuddle them and nurse them non-stop – without consuming so much as a snack for herself. Unfortunately, once the pup reaches the ripe old age of 12 days old, she abandons it in search of food and leaves it on the ice drift, despite knowing it is unable to swim until it reaches about eight weeks old!

Approximately 30% of all pups die because of this (either starving because they can’t swim to find food or drowning attempting to swim to find food), but those that do survive are immensely strong and well prepared for the incredibly harsh conditions of the Arctic. This is the survival of the fittest in action, it seems.


white hamster lying down
Image credit: Kim Green on Unsplash

It’s a fact: hamsters are cute and cuddly. They’re also easy to care for, don’t take up much space or need specialized equipment, and can be trained to perform all kinds of tricks. All around, they simply make for perfect pets for kids. But one area where these adorable pint-sized pals are seriously lacking is in the motherhood department.

Hamsters have an appetite for… well… their own young. That’s right. If your hamster has recently given birth to a horde of baby hamsters and you notice that one or two have simply disappeared into thin air, it’s almost guaranteed that they actually disappeared into their mother’s tummy.

This specific type of infanticide and cannibalism is a behavior exhibited by several other female animals, including baboons, sloth bears, prairie dogs, and rats. Though it is shocking and upsetting to us, it’s completely normal in the world of hamsters. The exact reason for this harrowing act depends on the specific hamster. Here are the most common reasons why hamsters eat their young:

  • If the hamster has overbred and has too many pups to care for, she will eat some to reduce the number of mouths to feed.
  • A lot of nutrients are lost during pregnancy, birth, and nursing, so the hamster will eat some of her young to replenish her nutrients if she is feeling weak.
  • A stressful environment full of loud noises, and possibly curious noses (of other pets) and fingers (of excited humans) can cause fear and undue stress in hamsters, which can lead to the mother hamster eating her young.
  • If a hamster is hungry and is not being properly fed, she will eat her young to satisfy her hunger and remain alive. Survival of the species and all that…

Giant Panda Bears

giant panda bear eating bamboo sitting
Image credit: Michael Payne on Unsplash

When it comes to parenting, bears are a funny bunch of carnivoran mammals indeed. On the one hand, you have brown bears and polar bears, who are some of the best animal moms on earth. And then you have the giant panda bear, who is not. In fact, the giant panda bear is a pretty terrible mother for a handful of reasons.

Despite their name, giant panda bear cubs are tiny at birth, usually measuring in at a measly four inches long and barely moving the scales at a mere four ounces heavy. In addition to their small size, they’re born weak, hairless, and blind, which makes looking after one cub a full-time job for the giant panda bear mother. But because giant panda bears’ primary source of food is bamboo, which is incredibly low in nutrients and therefore not great for milk production, a mother will generally only have enough energy to care for one cub – which is unfortunate since they most commonly give birth to two.

Giant panda bear moms are known to determine which of their newborn cubs are the weakest and simply stop caring for it. Instead, she will focus all of her efforts on raising the stronger cub, as this one is more likely to survive and will require less of her resources in doing so. As if this wasn’t bad enough, giant panda bears also have a bit of a reputation for accidentally squashing their babies.

Natasha Elder
byNatasha Elder

Natasha is a mother, a wife, a writer, and a serial cat owner. Though she is currently in mourning, her heart not ready for another feline family member just yet, she has always lived life with four paws beside her. She loves – you guessed it – cats, as well as creatures of the fluffy, scaly, and finned variety. Natasha longs to meet Sir David Attenborough one day and is passionate about responsible pet ownership