Reprinted from The Environmentor, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 11-12.

How Many Offspring?

Aesop says that the animals once began to argue among themselves, about who had the largest family. 

“I have six or eight kits and a time,” boasted Fox. 

“So do I,” said Skunk. 

“I usually have more than that!” boasted Rabbit. 

“Five or fewer for me,” said Beaver.


Ask listeners how many babies their pets have produced. Do the parents take care of them?


I'm happy to raise four,” said Robin. 

Two eggs for me,” added Hummingbird. 
“Ha,” bubbled the fishes, “we can lay hundreds !”

That's nothing,” buzzed the queen bee. “I can lay a thousand a day! Luckily I don't have to take care of them. (You fish don't even try,)” she zinged.

I can lay my weight in eggs,” said Monarch butterfly, “and I'm always careful to put them on plants that the babies can eat.”


Ask listeners if they know how many offspring other kinds of animals produce. What care do they take for the babies' survival?


Finally they turned to the Tigress, who had remained tactfully silent. “What about you?”

I only have one,” she said. “But that one is a TIGER...”

Facts: Survival by the numbers.

Zoologists have noticed that there's usually a connection between how many offspring/eggs an animal produces, and their “investment” in ensuring the offspring's survival. Some animals have only one or a small number at a time, often after a long pregnancy that allows the baby to grow fairly big before coming to the outside world. And they take care of the baby until it is big enough to fend for itself. 

Think of whales, and elephants.

Others produce many, only some of which will beat the odds of survival. Think of fishes and frogs. Sea turtles gather to lay their eggs together on a beach: when they all hatch on the same day, birds will feast but can't catch them all! 

Plants use similar strategies, some making large seeds with protective coats and generous stores of food (think of coconuts, which can float for months in the sea to a new island). Others send out an abundance of tiny seeds (dandelion): some will beat the odds and survive. 


Ask listeners for examples of different sizes and numbers of seeds. 


Trees such as oak and pecan put a lot of energy into their acorns/nuts, but every few years produce them in huge numbers: a “mast year” (“mast” refers to the fruit of forest trees and shrubs). Scientists figure that forest animals can't eat them all! Some will beat the odds and survive. In fact, the squirrels will probably forget where they've buried every one, helping to plant next year's seedlings.



Story: This is a classic Aesop fable.

I changed the Lioness to Tigerress because of the wonderful recent photo from the Tulsa Zoo!


Facts: many websites telling numbers of animal offspring.