Occasionally on the news I read about young children dying in hot cars on a sunny day. Usually the article reports that the parent(s) 'forgot' about their children still being in the car.

Obviously natural selection would select against a trait where parents forget about their dependent offspring or their whereabouts. However, I can imagine that under certain circumstances and on the fringe of the bell curve for offspring-caretaking, this occasionally happens.

Are there documented examples of animal species (preferably mammals or birds) who truly sometimes 'forget' about taking care for their dependent offspring, or forget their whereabouts?

Disclaimer: I'm aware of possible anthropomorphism in this question. With 'forgetting' I don't mean behavior such as abandoning offspring at the age where they need to become independent, or accidentally being separated from their young.

Here's an example of what I would file under forgetting:

A parent feeds their young every two to three hours. One day, they go out to find food, but get distracted by something interesting (let's say a mate). They spend a day frolicking around with the mate, and eventually return to their young. On return, they find out one of the young has died due to starvation, and they are visibly surprised / startled / upset about this.


To respond to Tyersome's comment: I have done plenty of searching and research. I haven't been able to find anything, neither in the scientific literature nor pop-culture websites / books. When you Google 'animal parenting' you'll find plenty of examples of various species who abandon their young (such as harp seals or rabbits) or who don't care for their own young (such as cuckoos), but these are 'deliberate' actions across an entire species, not examples of accidentally forgetting.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Biology.SE! We encourage you to do some research on your own and then, informed by what you have learned, ask any questions you still have (ideally with references to reliable sources). For example, when I searched for "animal parenting" I got many hits including a freely available article that appears relevant? ——— Please take the tour and then go through the help pages starting with How to Ask questions effectively on this site. Thanks! 😊 $\endgroup$ – tyersome Dec 10 '19 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ Do you make a distinction between “forget” and “overlook” in responses to this question? The only thing you can observe in animals other than humans in behaviour. The latter is fairly common in birds, e.g in feeding of young. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Dec 11 '19 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater: yes, I would exempt the 'deliberate' overlooking of feeding certain young (by birds) from this question, since that seems to stem from some sort of choice for one or two offspring, not randomly forgetting a different one each time. $\endgroup$ – YoupT Dec 12 '19 at 7:25
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    $\begingroup$ @YoupT With e.g. birds I think it is hard to make that distinction. Again, what you can see in feeding situations is behaviour. If certain weaker young are not fed because stronger siblings are more active and monopolize the feeding situation, and the parents do not observe this and actively feed the weaker young, you will end up with an forgotten/overlooked offspring which may eventually die. Was this chick forgotten or deliberately ignored? How would you make the distinction? It would certainly not be random, but I find it hard to label it a deliberate decision to choose one offspring. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Dec 12 '19 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ I'll add a better description of 'forgetting' in animal behavior. $\endgroup$ – YoupT Dec 12 '19 at 9:13

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