For those of us lucky enough to have grandmas (and grandpas!), we know they can be a blessing.
Grandparents can be sources of wisdom, comfort, or joy. Not to mention that many of us actuallygrew up with our grandparents family doesn’t justmeana mom and dad raising kids. We’re a lot more diverse than that.
In fact, the percentage of kids living in households run by a grandparent has more than doubledfrom about 3%inthe 1970s to about 7%now that’s more than 5 million grandkids,as of 2012, getting the care they need.
So I think it’s fair to say we’re really lucky to have grandparents.
You know who else is really lucky to have a grandma? This little guy.
Turns out that elephant grandmas are very important too!
Elephants often live in large families made up of babies, juveniles, and females. They’re often led by the oldest of these females, whichoftenhave a really important social role in their families.
Professor PhyllisLee wanted to know more about how these families worked. And in her research, she found something surprising having a grandma made a huge difference in whether a newbaby survived.
“It was an unexpected finding for us,”said Lee. “We didn’t think we’d find that very positive relationship between having a grandmother present and how well the daughters were doing in terms of reproduction.”
Only a handful of animals mostly humans and other primates, whales, and elephants get to have grandmas.
For most animals, living and having babies are tied together; you basically only stop having babies when you die. This makesanimals like elephants, whichcan live long after they’re done reproducing, pretty rare.
Part of the reason elephants are specialcomes from the fact that theylive so long. They can live up to 70 years!Many otheranimals simply don’t live long enough to really see their children’s children.
But even if they do, other animalsdon’t necessarily have any significant bond to the kid. You don’t see millipede grandmas, for example.
In fact, in many species, the mom and grandmother will end up fighting each other for resources if they’re in the same area. But not in elephants.
“Elephants are really nice and supportive,” said Lee.
(By the way, sorry Grandpa, but there aren’t really any maleequivalents here. Male elephants tend to go off on their own after they reach puberty. And though they can live long enough to see their children’s children, they don’t really have a family role. Which, when you think about it, just makes human grandpas evenmore special.)
What do elephant grandmas do for their families?
Elephant grandmas help protect the baby, keep track of it, and help it if it gets stuck.
Grandmas are also often the boss of the family, too. They can lead the family to the right places to forage or drinkorlead the way when interacting with other elephant families.
Part of what made Lee’s study special was the place they worked and the sheer amount of data they used.
Leelooked at data from more than 800 individual elephantsin Kenya’s Amboseli National Park.Researchers have been watching elephants in Amboseli formore than four decades.
That’s the kind of recordsyou need when you study an animal that can liveas long as a human.
“We’re only halfway there, we need another 40 years of data,”said Lee.
Her work is also interesting because it could give us hints about our own species like why we go through menopause, for example. It was published inSpringer’s journalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
Animals can have families just as complex and diverse as our own.
Next time you meet someone who grew up with their grandma, let them know that they’re like an elephant.
All of this makes me want to give a certain someone a hug.