Spring is the perfect time for baby animals to be born! Many animals have babies in the spring since the warmer weather makes it is easier for them to find food to feed them. Warmer weather also makes it easier for small babies to survive. Polar bears, who live in climates that are always very cold, actually have their babies during the winter while they are hibernating. When spring comes and warms things up a little, a mother bear will bring her cubs out of their cozy den for the first time and teach them how to find food for themselves. Other kinds of bears and some other large mammals also have babies during the winter, since they can nurse their babies and not have to leave their den to find food.
There are lots of different kinds of animals living on earth. That means that there lots of very different kinds of baby animals! Even though we usually think of babies as being small and helpless when they are first born, that isn't true for all animals. Some animals are very large even when they're first born. Sometimes even the smallest ones are able to live on their own without any help from their parents when they are born. Keep reading to learn about some different kinds of animals and different ways that their babies are born and cared for.
Mammals are animals that have hair or fur, are warm-blooded, and feed their babies with milk. Mammals give live birth, meaning that their babies are born from the mother's body instead of hatching from an egg. However, there are two animals that lay eggs but are still considered mammals! They are echidnas and platypuses.
Humans, elephants, cats, mice, pigs, rhinoceroses, gorillas, and many other animals are all mammals. Some are huge and some are tiny. Can you think of some other mammals?
Marsupials such as kangaroos, koalas, wombats, and opossums are mammals, too! When baby marsupials are born, they are very tiny and not as well developed as other mammal babies. They live in a fur-lined pouch on the outside of their mother's belly where they nurse (drink milk) and stay safe and warm until they are big enough to come out. Even after the babies can come out of their mother's pouch, they will still ride around on her back while they grow and learn how to survive on their own. Marsupial babies are called joeys. Almost all marsupials are nocturnal, which means they are awake at night and sleep during the day. Australia is home to most kinds of marsupials, but opossums do live in other parts of the world. In fact, the only marsupial that lives in North America is the Virginia Opossum, which can have up to 13 babies at once!
Reptiles are cold-blooded, have backbones, have skin covered with scales, have claws on their feet, and baby reptiles hatch from eggs. A few kinds of snakes and lizards give live birth to their babies, but most lay eggs. Reptiles are born looking like smaller versions of their parents and are on their own almost as soon as they hatch. Their parents do not stay around to take care of them, because they aren't really needed.
Amphibians are similar to reptiles, but they live in water for part of their lives and on land for part of their lives. They have moist, slimy skin instead of scales. All amphibians lay eggs and babies look very different from their parents when they first hatch. They go through different stages of life in a process called metamorphosis. For example, a baby frog is a tadpole that lives in water and looks like a fish. It gradually grows arms and legs and becomes an adult frog!
Fish are cold-blooded, have backbones, and lay eggs, just like reptiles and amphibians. Fish's bodies are covered in scales. They do not have any arms or legs, so they use fins to swim. Fish have gills instead of lungs to help them breathe in water. Some female fish can actually give birth to live fish instead of laying eggs! Many kinds of fish do not wait for their eggs to hatch and do not take care of their babies once the eggs hatch. However, some types of fish lay eggs in a nest and guard them very carefully and then take care of the babies until they are big enough to take care of themselves. A baby fish is called a fry and a group or family of fish is called a school.
Birds are warm-blooded and have skeletons and backbones, like mammals. Birds' wings even have bones that are very similar to bones in human arms. However, unlike mammals, birds are covered in feathers instead of fur or hair and hatch from eggs. Mother birds build nests to lay their eggs in, then they carefully sit on their eggs to keep them warm while the baby birds inside grow and develop. Once the babies hatch, mother and father birds have to work hard to collect enough food to keep their hungry babies fed.
Insects do not have backbones, or any bones for that matter! Instead they have exoskeletons that give their bodies shape and protection. Insects have three body sections, six legs, two antennae, and two eyes. Many insects also have wings. Insects hatch from eggs. Some baby insects look like smaller versions of their parents and will shed their skin as they grow bigger. Others go through metamorphosis and look and act very different from their adult parents when they first hatch. For example, did you know that a caterpillar is a "baby" butterfly? When a butterfly lays an egg, it will eventually hatch into a caterpillar, which is called a larva. Then it will change into a pupa by spinning a chrysalis around itself and later emerge as an adult butterfly! Many insects, including bees, flies, and beetles, go through metamorphosis. Other insects, like grasshoppers, and arachnids (spiders) molt or shed the outer layer of their skin to grow bigger.
Nocturnal- an animal that is awake and active mostly at night and sleeps during the day.
Metamorphosis- a transformation that many insects and animals go through before becoming adults. The changes that take place are very dramatic.
Learn names of animal groups, males, females, and young here and here.
Printable baby animal coloring sheets.
Learn about baby animals that live in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.
Let kids match the baby animals to their mothers on this coloring sheet and take the opportunity to review the names of a few different animal babies with your kids. Did you know that a baby platypus is called a puggle?
Frogs and butterflies have young that are significantly different from the adults, so this is a great time to review metamorphosis as well.
For science projects to use with this topic, click here.