After having a fun conversation with a friend regarding parenting, I actually had the general question arise in my mind of when did parenting actually start to take place?

But, first, I think we need to define what I mean by "parenting". Specifically, what I am talking about is when animals decided to give birth to their young and not abandon them to immediately fend for themselves. Instead, parenting is taking care of, and protecting children for a period of time (even a brief one) until they are grown enough to take care of themselves.

Also, I think it's worth not counting the actions of a mother or father hovering over eggs of unhatched offspring until they hatch. True, this is a form of parental watching but I'm more interested in the general timeframe of when parents started watching over the general actions and "shenanigans" of their offspring in order to protect them from harm and to give them a better chance of survival.

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    $\begingroup$ Which animals are you asking about specifically? There are quite a few species and the answer will be different for nearly all of them. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ Any! Although multiple species may have started this independently, which started it first. Generally, I'm interested in the genesis of this behavior. $\endgroup$
    – RLH
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 21:18

1 Answer 1


Parental care

What you call "parenting" is called "parental care" and "parental care" is any investment of the parent to improve the fitness of their offspring. Parental care can take many forms from niche building for the offspring to parental feeding passing by placing plenty of ressources in the egg.

Issue with the definition of parental care

Given the vastness and eventual lack of a strict enough definition of the concept of parental care, it will likely be difficult to really know what you would consider as being parental care. Below I am suggesting two possible cases. If you were expecting to another answer, you will need to provide a nice and strict definition of parental care.

Mutation rate

Under a very broad definition of parental care, one could argue that first examples of parental care would be found in very early organisms (bacteria/archae, eventually viruses) that would at some point (for a given lineage) reduce its mutation rate to ensure transmitting a good genome to its offspring cells.

Nutrients in eggs

If you feel unhappy with me using such a broad definition, you might want to consider the first examples of parental care as being the existence of anisogamy (see here), where females (by definition) produce large eggs filled with nutrients, proteins, mRNA and other things. I doubt we know what lineage first evolved but it could be an ascomycota eventually.


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