This baby alligator was being watched over by a very protective mother.
The baby alligator was just a cute 12 inches long. It rested on a green lily pad, its yellow and black skin in sharp contrast. It was a great photo, one that could be even more amazing if I could get a little closer and perhaps shoot from eye level. I began to make my stealthy approach when movement across the small canal caught my eye. About 15 feet away, a large green adult alligator, a good and watchful mother, lay on the bank, staring at me with unblinking eyes. I was a little slow on the uptake but realization dawned on me. Mother alligators guard their youngsters for over a year. I slowly backed out, suddenly more than content with photographing from the bank at a less than ideal angle.
As humans, we like to judge motherhood strategies as good or bad based on the way humans raise their young. In reality though, it isn’t about good or bad, it is about survival and there are hundreds, if not thousands of strategies that nature’s mothers use to help their youngsters persist in the real world.
Mothering reaches its pinnacle with humans, where the process may last 20 years and include teaching complex skills and ideas such as morality. To lesser degrees, we share this with apes, elephants, orcas and a number of other species that care for their young over years while teaching them involved skills.
But motherhood strategies run the gamut in nature. At the lowest end is the love them and leave them strategy. Horseshoe crabs and yellow perch, for instance, seem to haphazardly cast fertilized eggs where predators can easily catch a free meal. This is the tactic of overwhelming numbers. Even when the predators are satiated, there are still eggs available to hatch.
Giant octopus mothers have a very dedicated version of overwhelming numbers. They only have one clutch in a lifetime, about 100,000 eggs. They back into a cozy underwater cave and for six months protect the eggs, dying about the time they hatch.
You wouldn’t think to expect a real ingenious strategy among the amphibians, but the Costa Rican poison dart frog would prove you wrong. This mother carries each tadpole, usually six or seven in all, to a separate bromeliad nursery that holds rainwater. Then she deposits an unfertilized egg in each to serve as food for the developing frog. Further, she returns every couple of days to replenish the food supply, demonstrating memory as well as creativity.
For the majority of animals, raising young is an annual event, sometimes more often than that. As soon as the new generation is mature enough to fend for themselves they either move off on their own or are rebuffed by their mother. This isn’t poor mothering. This is how the mother can prepare for the next litter or clutch.
Animal mothers may care for their young for years, enlist the help of others, carry their babies in pouches, on their back or even in their mouth. They sometimes have to make hard choices and allow one sibling to die in order to ensure the survival of the other. They may abandon their eggs without ever even seeing their offspring. But regardless of the strategy, it has proven to work well for that species over time. That makes all of nature’s mothers good mothers.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho