Child Care Snails

It’s fair to say that a lot of men don’t take their duties and responsibilities as a father seriously. And in the animal world that is true too, with many males of the species too busy mating with multiple partners in an attempt to increase their chances of producing offspring, and neglecting their childcare duties. But there is one shining example of selfless male parenting – the marine whelk. Solenosteira macrospira, as he is known, does all the work of raising the young, from egg-laying to hatching – even though few of the baby snails are his own.

daddy whelks

When the snails mate, the female glues capsules, containing hundreds of eggs each, to the male’s shell. The male then carries them around for over a month lovingly nurturing them.\n\nBut when researchers carried out Jerry Springer “Who’s the daddy?”  style DNA tests on the hatched offspring, they found, on average, that the male snails were the fathers of just 24% of the babies they had carried on their backs. Many had sired far less. And some carried the offspring of as many as 25 other males. “The promiscuity in the female snails is extraordinary,” says Stephanie Kamel, one of the study’s authors.

Thankfully marine whelks carry around their own homes – their shells – so the snails don’t have to get a large mortgage and shell out (shell out! get it? oh come on!) for a bigger home for all their step-sons and step-daughters.

So why do the male snails do it? The researchers say it might be because carrying egg capsules are a way for a male to show a female that he\’s good parent material. “If he wants to get any action, he has to pay the price,” says Kamel. So maybe it’s not quite so selfless after all.

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