Which Animal Has the Longest Pregnancy?

Do you have a younger sibling? If you do, you might recall the day your parents told you that you were going to have a new brother or sister. It’s a memorable day when you find out that you’re going to be an older sibling!

After hearing the news, you might have wondered when the baby will arrive. A new baby is a precious and thrilling addition to any family. If you were eager to meet your new sibling, you were probably disappointed to learn that it would take some time before they would be born.

In humans, the time it takes for a baby to develop in the womb until it’s ready to be born — called the pregnancy period — averages about 280 days or 40 weeks or approximately nine months. For a child excited to meet their new sibling, that might seem like forever!

However, when you look at certain animals, you might realize that a nine-month wait isn’t so bad. For instance, when it comes to mammals, no other animal has to wait as long to give birth as the elephant.

It makes sense if you think about it. Elephants are the largest land mammals and they also have the largest brains. It takes time for an elephant baby, which weighs around 230 pounds at birth, to develop.

How long does it take? The average pregnancy period for an elephant is about 640-660 days or approximately 95 weeks or roughly 23 months. That’s nearly two years!

Can you imagine waiting almost two years for a sibling to be born? However, the elephant’s pregnancy period isn’t even the longest in the animal kingdom. Here are some examples of other animals with really long pregnancy periods.

Black alpine salamanders have pregnancy periods that can last two to three years. The higher they live in the Alps, the colder it is, and the longer their pregnancy period is.

Certain species of sharks also have long pregnancy periods. A basking shark carries its young for almost three years, while the frilled shark has a pregnancy period of three and a half years.

If you go even deeper into the sea, you’ll find another marine animal with a surprisingly long pregnancy period. In April 2007, scientists discovered a deep-sea octopus over 4,500 feet deep in the ocean waters off California.

They decided to monitor it over time and noticed a month later that it was guarding eggs. They had to return multiple times until, finally, the babies were born after a pregnancy period of 53 months. That’s almost four and a half years!

Scientists were surprised because that’s more than double the length of pregnancy for most octopuses that live in shallower waters. Scientists believe that the cold temperatures in deeper waters result in a slower metabolic rate and thus a longer pregnancy period.

Try It Out

Are you ready to learn more about baby animals? Get a friend or family member to help you explore the following activities:

  • Have a conversation with a parent about their experience of waiting for your birth. Did the time pass quickly or did it seem to drag on? If it took 95 weeks for a human to be born, do you think there would be more or fewer babies born? Why?
  • Check out National Geographic’s photo gallery of baby animals to view pictures of various adorable baby animals. Which one do you find the cutest? If you could choose any baby animal to have as a pet, which one would you choose and why? Do you wish baby animals could stay small forever?
  • If you can handle more cuteness, go online and watch the Most Funny and Cute Baby Elephant Videos of 2016. If you had a baby elephant as a pet, what would you feed it? Where would it sleep? What would you do as it grows into an adult?

Sources of Wonder

  • https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/photos/12-animals-with-the-longest-gestation-period/elephants#top-desktop
  • https://www.livescience.com/33086-what-animal-has-the-longest-pregnancy.html
  • http://www.popsci.com/article/science/octopus-broods-its-eggs-45-years-longest-any-animal


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