This Mother’s Day, Princeton University Press is trading in the perfumed soap and jewelry for a different type of celebration for moms. We’ve gathered a group of experts on a range of interesting subjects and compiled a group of mom-related shorts. Zumba class instructor or Pinterest lover – we have a special story for your mom. We hope that this series will provide you with some interesting conversation topics to get family members thinking (and chuckling) during that Mother’s Day brunch.
We’re thankful for our moms, who shuttled us to soccer and ballet practice and made sure that we stuck to our bedtime (even when we wanted to stay up reading). Moms are always a phone call away when college homesickness sets in or after a bad day. For the mothers who keep us afloat, we’re diving deep to explore the world of under-the-sea families. It turns out that clownfish love their moms just as much as we do!
Stephen R. Palumbi & Anthony R. Palumbi
Co-authors of THE EXTREME LIFE OF THE SEA
Mothers are always precious, nowhere more so than in the sea. Marine creatures don’t do much parenting, usually preferring to dump their eggs in the water and promptly forget about them. But where they do appear, mothers work diligently to support their young. They are anchors of their communities, often assuming matriarchal leadership roles. Clownfish cluster into intimate family units rooted physically to their anemone homes and emotionally to their mothers—an ever-shifting role that challenges our own conceptions of family.
A gaggle of small, immature males coexists peacefully under the watchful eyes of a single mature male and an even larger mature female. Mom rules the roost, but the family’s got a plan should something ever happen to her. No, not the plan from “Finding Nemo,” where the grieving father raises his young alone. Actual clownfish react to death with the detachment of Westerosi nobles, simply shuffling along the line of succession.
The mature male begins a rapid hormonal change—within a week he’s producing eggs, acting in every sense as the new matriarch. The biggest and halest juvenile male matures to fill the father role, while his brothers patiently wait for their turns at reproduction. There must always be a mother. Without her, they’re lost.
Without mothers, the whole ocean is lost. Not just in the literal sense; mothers turn out to be especially crucial for maintaining healthy ecosystems. Unlike humans, many marine mothers see their fertility only increasing with age. The oldest mothers don’t just produce the most offspring, they produce the best offspring: the biggest, the healthiest, the most likely to reach adulthood. As a consequence, fisheries become massively easier to manage when mothers—particularly older, highly successful mothers—are protected.
We celebrate Mother’s Day not just for the wonderful women in our own lives, but also for the animals who’ll provide us a healthy future.
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