Charles Darwin would say that animal reproduction, or the successful passing on of an animal’s genes to the next generation, is what makes that animal a success in the gene pool. But studies are finding that there are many animals that choose to delay or forgo reproduction to help other animals in their social group raise young.

The practice is called Kin Selection, and suggests that some animals ensure that at least some of their genes are successfully passed on not by reproducing themselves, but by making sure that close relatives become successful parents. Animal helpers most often assist those most closely related to themselves–parents and siblings–and their help can be instrumental in protecting the young from predators, and providing food. This way, animals may actually ensure the passing on of more of their own genes than if they’d had their own offspring. It also opens doors: the experience better equips animals to be star-quality parents themselves, if they should reproduce later in life.

Read about animal babysitters in Zoobooks Animal Babies, the current issue, and see how this theory might apply. You may see animal “aunties” in a whole new light!

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