The State Darwin Museum presents - Mother and Child Exhibition

The relationship between animals and their offspring.

Fox brood with an albino (1953/1953) by A. N. KomarovState Darwin Museum


The happiness and beauty of motherhood have been celebrated by the best artists and poets throughout the history of humankind. There is a good reason why the level of culture and prosperity of society can be identified in terms of the respect that it has for the woman who brings up children. Children can only be happy in a close-knit family and under the wing of a loving mother. The exhibition will lift the veil of secrecy on the relationships between mothers and offspring in the wild. Where does the sacred feeling of motherly love come from? Who can be called a mother-heroine by right, and who does not deserve the title? Which mothers act purely instinctively, and which mothers are guided by the feeling of love?

Wolf den (1920/1920) by V. A. VataginState Darwin Museum

People tend to personify animal behavior and credit them with their own feelings and thoughts. Charles Darwin once said: “Nothing human is alien to animals.” If we take a closer look at the behavior of our neighbors sharing our planet, we will definitely see what we know to be boundless, self-sacrificing, dedicated love to our offspring. Could it be that we look like them, not the other way round?

When narrating about feelings we selected artistic methods for a good reason. Who can sense and convey the fragile aspects of relationship between living beings better than artists and sculptors? The display features works by contemporary animal painters A. M. Belashova, A. S. Tsvetkova, M. G. Osrovskaya and many more, as well as classical animal painters who worked for the Darwin Museum — V. A. Vatagin, A. N. Komarov, and K. K. Flerov.

Bear family (1960/1960) by G. N. GlikmanState Darwin Museum

The display explores the broad array of relationships between animals and their offspring. You will learn that octopuses and African crocodiles are selfless mothers, see the lengths to which the cuckoo is ready to go to get rid of the burden of motherhood, observe the cradles, in which ants and wasps, orioles and weavers, tortoises and bears are born.

Naturally, our journey from simple to increasingly sophisticated parental instincts will ultimately lead us to man, who is not an exception, because we are just one of the animal species on our planet whose instincts are similar to those of many other animals and who is tightly integrated into its environment.

Octopus under the shelter of rocks (1961/1961) by O. F. KhludovaState Darwin Museum

Mollusks taking care of their offspring

Many female octopuses are fanatically devout to their maternal obligations. As soon as she lays eggs in a natural cavity or even in a “basket” formed by her own tentacles, an octopus does not let anyone get near them and neglects to eat for a period of two to four months taking care of her unhatched eggs. She keeps washing, rearranging and cleaning them sometimes using her own suckers as tiny vacuum cleaners. Her starvation often results in irreparable harm to her health, and many female octopuses die by giving life to a new generation.

The painting was performed by O. F. Khludova, possibly as a supplement to the earlier series “Biopsychology of Lower Animals” by N. N. Kondakov. The painting is a characteristic example of the artist’s creative work — her best paintings depict marine fauna. Olga Florentyevna Khludova (1913-1975) was a biologist and artist. She was the first wife of the ichthyologist N. N. Kondakov and an enthusiast of diving, which was new to the USSR during those years. That sport became an excellent opportunity for the artist to study the aquatic world and its residents.

Sticklebacks near their nest (1948/1948) by N. N. KondakovState Darwin Museum

Parental instinct of fish

In spring the male threespined stickleback builds a nest for eggs. After that he picks female sticklebacks to visit the nest and deposit eggs. Once eggs have been laid, the male guards the nest, repairs and cleans it, and aerates the eggs. When baby fish appear, the father dismantles the roof of the nest turning it into a cradle. He takes care of his offspring after eggs hatch, but eventually loses interest in them and can even eat some of his children forgetting who they are.

Goby with eggs (1948/1948) by N. N. KondakovState Darwin Museum

Most fish species deposit eggs directly in the water and leave them immediately after spawning. The British ichthyologist Francis D. Ommanney commented on this breeding method: “Millions of unprotected eggs abandoned to their fate amid dangers of the ocean — what a wasteful way to continue the species.” However, some fish have “chosen” a new evolutionary way: they reduced the amount of eggs and started taking good care of them. The species having internal fertilization normally have the female take care of offspring, whereas species that make use of external fertilization put the male in charge of the new generation. Their care does not include the provision of food; therefore, a single parent is enough to protect eggs and young fish against predators and remove parasites.

Paradise fish with their redd (1948/1948) by N. N. KondakovState Darwin Museum

Some fish species went as far as to carry their eggs in their mouths. A parent starves first carrying eggs in the mouth and then hiding baby fish there. Sometimes, mouthbrooders seem to be chewing something, but they only mix their eggs in their mouths to ensure a better oxygen supply.

The most terrible beast (1990/1990) by E. A. YelskayaState Darwin Museum

Caring reptiles

Female American alligators and African crocodiles are exemplary moms compared with other representatives of their class. They protect a special nest with eggs. Such nests are made of rotting plants, and female alligators and crocodiles keep a certain temperature there that is required for their brood.

A female is always near her nest and does not let anyone near it. Before hatching baby reptiles start making quacking sounds. This is the signal for the mother to unearth her nest and help her offspring out, after which she carefully carries her babies to the “nursery” — a small pond protected with plants.

Avocet near her nest (1979/1979) by A. V. MartsState Darwin Museum

Parental behavior of birds

It is typical of nearly all bird species to take long care of their offspring. They carefully select sites for nests and build them, sit on eggs and feed chicks, train them and protect them from predators. The instinctive elements of their behavior underlying these processes can be further augmented by experience, which is instrumental to the success of reproduction.

Nesting site of eagles (1952/1952) by A. N. KomarovState Darwin Museum

The painting “A nesting site of eagles” was performed by the artist A. N. Komarov for the section “Evidence of evolution” on the subject “Problem of a species in terms of the variability of hunting birds.” The work illustrated age-specific changes in birds, according to A. F. Kots: “For a long time, eagles with white tails and dark plumage and those with dark tails and rusty plumage were treated as various species and referred to, respectively, as “berkut” and “kholzan” (both translated as “golden eagle”). However, continuous monitoring of the birds at nesting sites showed that they are in fact the same species, young birds having white tails and older ones having darker tails, meaning that every “kholzan” used to be a “berkut”…

Nesting site of peregrine falcons (1952/1952) by A. N. KomarovState Darwin Museum

The painting was performed by A. N. Komarov on commission of A. F. Kots for the section “Evidence of evolution” on the subject “Problem of a species in terms of the variability of hunting birds.” Three paintings had been planned: “A nesting site of peregrine falcons”, “A nesting site of eagles”, and “A nesting site of goshawks.” The paintings were supposed to demonstrate the similarity of plumage in young birds, which, according to A. F. Kots, proved that “they all are descendants of a single species that had this sort of attire with lengthwise ornaments.”

Brush turkeys (1920/1920) by V. A. VataginState Darwin Museum

Unlike most other bird species, the brush turkey does not sit on its eggs, but digs them in the ground or black earth, were they develop using sunlight or heat generated by rotting plants. The male is responsible for maintaining the natural incubator.

Ringdoves on their nest (1949/1949) by A. N. KomarovState Darwin Museum

In 1949, the artist A. N. Komarov created a series of three paintings on commission of A. F. Kots (“Ringdoves on their nest”, “Stock doves on their nest”, and “Blue hill pigeons on their nest”) for the section “Natural selection theory” on the subject “Origins of domesticated species (hens and doves).” According to A. F. Kots, these works were supposed to demonstrate that “…it is from the blue hill dove that all domesticated doves ultimately originated,” because the stock dove and ringdove differ from the blue hill dove by their nesting manner.

Great-crested grebes (1920/1920) by V. A. VataginState Darwin Museum

Great-crested grebes. These birds carry their offspring on their backs for two or three weeks after they hatch.

Flamingo with its chick (1979/1979) by A. V. MartsState Darwin Museum

Flamingos live in large colonies and build a new nest every year. Both parents sit on eggs. Interestingly, the beaks of hatched chicks are straight and will curve just like those of their parents about two weeks after hatching. When their parents need to take long trips looking for food, chicks that have moved out of their nests congregate in large groups and are looked after by “mentors on duty.”

Hen with chicks (1991/1991) by L. V. KhinshteinState Darwin Museum

The most thoughtful and caring mothers are sometimes referred to as “sitters,” and for a good reason. If you happen to watch a hen and her chicks, you will certainly notice her touching care and 24/7 control of the yellow balls that are her chicks. If there is a slightest chance of danger, the hen will always cover her chicks with her wings.

Cuckoo chick (1983/1983) by A. V. MartsState Darwin Museum

A small bird is feeding the large fat chick. Tiny parents bring food to the enormous baby 200 to 300 times a day, and sometimes even more. But the baby is not theirs. His real mother is a cuckoo, who planted her egg in their nest two weeks ago and will never come back to visit. A series of extraordinary instincts and adaptation mechanisms helps cuckoos waive what is probably the most troublesome business of all — childrearing.

African ostriches (1920/1920) by V. A. VataginState Darwin Museum

Amazingly, in some species it is the male that is responsible for sitting on eggs, as well as for nurturing and training chicks. The burden of parenthood is something that male ostriches, rhea, emu (and some other bird species) have to deal with almost exclusively. Female ostriches simply put eggs in front of the male, who carefully rolls them under his body. There can be up to 60 eggs in a single nest. However, even such a big daddy is unable to provide enough heat for all eggs, and some chicks die before they hatch.

Penguin colony (1921/1921) by V. A. VataginState Darwin Museum

Emperor penguins manage to breed in Antarctica, in most adverse conditions, when temperatures stay below minus 35°C for weeks. When a female lays a large white egg that weights about 500 grams, her “husband” places it on its legs and covers it with a special feathered fold on its tummy. He will starve for eight to ten weeks while heating the egg, because all females of the colony leave to find food by the sea. However, ladies return with their bags full. They have up to 4 kilograms of half-digested fish in their stomachs that they will use to feed their chicks.

Goat with kids (1946/1946) by V. V. TrofimovState Darwin Museum

Caring animals

In 1946, the Darwin Museum organized the exhibition “Origins of Our Domesticated Animals” at the “Children’s village” of Sokolniki Park. Vadim Trofimov performed 14 oil paintings on cardboard for the display depicting a wild ancestor and contemporary domesticated animal: “A wild cat” and “A domestic cat”; “A wolf” and “A domesticated dog”; “A boar” and “A domestic swine”; “A wild sheep” and “A domesticated sheep”; “A bezoar goat” and “A goat with kids”; “A wild goat” and “A domesticated goat”; “A Przevalsky’s horse” and “A domesticated horse.”

Bear is fishing (1932/1932) by V. A. VataginState Darwin Museum

In January–February, the female bear gives birth to blind and tiny cubs that weight up to 500 grams and look like small mittens. The mother warms them in her paws and breathes on them. In spring, when time comes to leave the lair, the cubs can see and walk. Bears that live in the Far East hand down their fishing skills from generation to generation. Mothers train their cubs where to fish and how to fish various fish species — the best place to ambush the humpback salmon is a riffle, and the chum salmon should be hunted at spawning sites and in springs.

school of young wild goats (1920/1920) by V. A. VataginState Darwin Museum

The painting “A school of young wild goats” was performed by V. A. Vatagin in 1920 on commission of A. F. Kots for the “Zoopsychology section” of the museum on the subject “World of animal instincts” developed by N. N. Ladygina-Kots. A. F. Kots described the painting as follows: “Mother goat trains its kids to jump in their native mountains.”

Hippopotamus with its baby (1920/1920) by V. A. VataginState Darwin Museum

Baby hippos often rest on their mothers’ backs, until they learn how to swim well. There is an opinion that this practice inspired the Europeans that saw hippos for the first time to name them Hippopotamus (the ancient Greek for “river horse”).

Kangaroo (1920/1920) by V. A. VataginState Darwin Museum

Strange as it may seem, a female grey kangaroo that can grow to 3 meters long from her nose to the tip of her tail gives birth to a tiny baby that is only 2.5 centimeters long and weighs 1.5–2 grams. The joey immediately makes its way to its safe haven, its mother’s pouch. The mom shows it the way by licking a special path towards it pouch, where the joey finds a teat, which it will suck for a very long time.

A few weeks (if not moths) later, the baby starts leaving its mother’s pouch, and quite often a big and long-legged joey seeks shelter in his mom’s pouch if it feels danger, with its legs sticking out of the unique organ of this marsupial.

Musk deer with its calf (1940/1940) by K. K. FlerovState Darwin Museum

The painting was performed in the State Darwin Museum under the annual plan on the subject “Organism and environment.” A. F. Kots wrote in a letter of explanation to the budget for 1940 that the museum interpreted the subject in the following way: “The subject focuses on one of the central chapters of evolutionism, namely, age-related adaptation in the animal world and application of the ‘Biogenetic Law’ (reproduction of ancestors’ features in younger animals).

The planned examples include representations of a series of species with remarkably bright motley colors and patterns during the first years of their life — these are elementary examples normally placed in books on evolutionism, which, however, have not been used for museum purposes so far…” Two paintings were performed on the subject, illustrating age-related changes in animals: “A boar and its piglets” and “A musk deer with its calf.”

Chimpanzee with its offspring (1936/1936) by V. A. VataginState Darwin Museum

When watching apes you can often observe miracles of motherhood. An American center for primate studies once videotaped a most amazing episode. A newborn baby chimpanzee was not breathing. The mother placed it on the ground, opened its lips and pulled its tongue with her fingers. Then she put her mouth against the baby’s open lips and started breathing air into it. The baby came to life!

Gorilla with its offspring (1921/1991) by G. N. GlikmanState Darwin Museum

Gorillas are very tender, caring and patient parents. Even high-ranking grey-haired males allow babies to use themselves as playgrounds for jumping and climbing. If a young mother does not know what to do with its baby, another, more experienced female will certainly adopt it, feed it and care about it as if it were one of her own.

Female bear with cubs (1960/1960) by A. N. KomarovState Darwin Museum

The painting “A female bear with cubs” was performed by A. N. Komarov based on his personal impressions following his meeting with bears: “Sunlight was fading. Shades were growing thicker… We had an old spruce forest on one side and a cutover patch on the other, covered in raspberry and willow weed, with giant mossy stumps. It was that peculiar time of the day when silence falls, and not a single rustle or whisper can be heard… A bear cub suddenly crossed the path, running from a rusty stump, and another one followed. Then the stump rose on its hind legs and started looking around. We froze, gazing at the large brown bear…”

Going for a Walk.A cheetah and its cub (1985/1985) by E. I. GatilovaState Darwin Museum

Cheetahs are the fastest surface mammals, dangerous predators and tender parents. A female cheetah has from one to five cubs. Their father takes care of them, brings home food and is capable of taking over motherly duties if the female dies. Three-week-old baby cheetahs eat both milk and meat. The first eight months of their life are the most dangerous period. Their main enemies are lions, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs. More than half of all young cheetahs die before they turn one.

Polar bear and her cub (2005/2005) by A. M. BelashovState Darwin Museum

The end

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