Behavior of Mothers of Altricial Offspring

These species are often predators and frequently solitary, or they live in family groups (e.g., rodents, dogs, cats). Altricial offspring are generally born in large litters, and individuals are small relative to maternal bodyweight. Maternal investment in each individual is, therefore, relatively low, and the survival of some of the litter takes precedence over the survival of all offspring. Mothers of altricial offspring construct a den or nest in which to give birth and maintain the litter for the initial period of development. The nest is important to provide warmth and protection for the vulnerable young, and mothers show a high degree of defensive aggression to intruders. Altricial offspring are largely helpless at birth, so other maternal behaviors consist of licking or grooming (sometimes to stimulate voiding in the young), retrieval of offspring to the nest if they become scattered, gathering the young together to suck, and the adoption of a nursing posture to aid their sucking. The young do, however, have some influence over the expression of maternal behavior by their responses (e.g., vocalizations), which may indicate their degree of need to the mother.

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