Imprinting is the process in which a newborn animal forms a bond with its caregiver, most commonly its parents. True imprinting is found mostly in birds that are precocial, or able to walk soon after birth, but it can also be seen to an extent in some mammals. Animals that imprint are normally either birds or social mammals that need to be able to tell their mother from a large group of mothers. Imprinting can also happen between different species. For instance, when humans are caring for an orphaned animal or when a goat or sheep takes in an orphaned baby.
8 examples of animals that imprint on each other
In this article, we will be looking at 8 species of animals that imprint, or form a quick bond with their parents.
Geese follow their parents around almost immediately after they hatch. To keep from getting lost or ending up in the wrong nest, babies imprint on the first animal they see upon hatching. This is normally their mother who is tending the nest, but if you hatch eggs in an incubator you could end up being followed around by your freshly imprinted baby geese.
A great example of geese imprinting on a human is a movie called Fly Away Home. In this movie, a girl finds an abandoned nest of eggs and brings them home to incubate and hatch. When the babies hatch, they imprint on her and she helps raise them and teach them how to be geese, even flying in a small plane to teach them how to fly.
Similar to geese, ducklings also quickly imprint after hatching. Ducks are even more in danger of predation. Having the ability to quickly imprint and get in the water allows them to evade some of their common predators.
While imprinting is important to ducks, many species are also known to adopt ducklings that have been orphaned.
Zebras are herd animals that evade predation by staying together and blending into each other. Every zebra has different stripes and a baby zebra must quickly imprint on his mother and memorize hers. If a baby zebra gets separated from its mother and/or its herd, it will likely be killed rather quickly by predators.
Baby zebras can be up and moving around within hours of being born, allowing them and their mother to stay in the safety of their herd almost from birth.
While raccoons aren’t the typical imprinters that form fast bonds with their parents, they do often form bonds with humans. It is very common for baby raccoons to become orphaned and be brought to animal rehabbers.
While humans are nursing the babies, they have to be very careful to prevent the babies from imprinting on them and losing their fear of humans. If the raccoons do imprint on humans, they are no longer candidates for release and must stay with humans or be euthanized.
5. Guinea Pigs
Unlike many rodents that are born small and furless with their eyes closed, guinea pigs are born ready to go. Almost immediately after birth, they are fully functional and look like small versions of their parents.
These babies quickly imprint on their mother and will follow her around to nurse and avoid predators. While many people may think of pets when they hear the name guinea pig, these animals are still very much around in the wild and are a preferred food source for lots of predators, including humans.
Another type of precocial bird is the chicken. Almost immediately after hatching, chicks will begin following around their mother. She and the rooster will do their best to protect them from predators like birds of prey, raccoons, and snakes. The hen will also teach them how to forage for food and find things like bugs and fresh plant shoots.
While you might not expect it, chickens can be ferocious predators, killing and eating mice, snakes, lizards, and bugs whenever they get the opportunity.
Hyenas have very intense matriarchal societies. Each pack is led by a female and males are at the very bottom of the totem pole. Unlike wolves, all the females in the pack are able to and usually will mate and produce 1-2 pups. These pups are born with teeth and with their eyes open and must quickly bond with their mother.
As soon as these pups leave the womb, they will begin fighting for dominance, with the dominant pup frequently killing the weaker one. The mother hyena will keep her pup(s) in their own burrow for a few weeks before moving them into a communal area with the rest of the mothers. It’s important that the pup has imprinted on his mother at this point because a mother hyena will only feed and care for her own young.
The national symbol of Thanksgiving, turkeys are more than just a bird on your fall table. These animals have very interesting social structures with one male leading and protecting a harem of females and their babies.
Baby turkeys imprint on their parents almost immediately after birth and then stay close to them to keep them from becoming snacks to predators. Free-range domestic turkeys have a somewhat safer life, but much shorter lifespans as many turkeys are eaten before they reach a year of age.